Friday, October 24, 2008

I am alive!

Hello everyone! Once again I have another marathon blog update (as my sister called my last one) for everyone. I just realized that I messed up the order when I posted my updates. I was trying to go for chronological order, but instead I have the newest first event first and the oldest last - sorry about that. Also, I am so sorry for the long absence without updates. I came last Sunday to update my blog, however the internet was not working well and I could not get the blog site to work Today, Friday, is the first day I have been able to come back to the internet club. I am trying my best to update it regularly, so please be patient with me!

Just to give a brief update of this past week – nothing super exciting. Expect that I found out my sister had her baby boy! I was really excited about that and I was able to talk to her and my mom on Wednesday, definitely the highlight of my week. Yesterday I had my site placement interview with the Youth Development Program Manager. November 5th is the big deal – the day of my permanent site placement announcements. This morning I had my first language assessment test, I am glad it is over with for now. I will find out my language level by Monday (by the end of PST I am supposed to be at Intermediate Mid). That has been my week – Sunday my cluster and I were invited to “guest” (i.e. visit) at the house of one of the math teachers at the school where we have our language lessons and to a wedding that night by another teacher. Then we, as a group, are going to have our first weekly Office (as in the tv show) Night. I have never seen the Office before, but I no many people who absolutely love it – so my expectations are high! I will update my blog again as soon as I am able!

Gobustan & Mud Volcanoes

So today, the 18th, was a PC cultural day. They rented two giant tour buses and hauled all the trainees and staff on a field trip. I actually had a lot of fun, the weather was great today and we got to see a lot of really neat sites, and it was fun to see everyone all at once. Our first stop was Gobustan, “ravine/canyon land”. According to our PC handout “Gobustan, settle since the 8th millennium BC, contains thousands of rock engravings spread over 100 square km depicting hunting scenes, people, ships, constellations, animals, etc… The oldest petroglyphs date from the 12th century BC and traces of Mesolithic period occupation can be seen, with numerous burial mounds and graves.” Well, I didn’t see all that, just some really fascinating petroglyhphs. But, I did get to climb a lot of rocks, which was completely worth the two hour drive to get there. The PC staff corralled us all back on the buses to take us to the mud volcanoes. Now, I was so excited about this because the PCVs in Ganja really talked this place up and said it is a must see. Once again, I had in my head what I imagined mud volcanoes were going to look like – and I am not going to lie, I was a bit disappointed. They were a lot smaller than I expected and not supper active. But as one my friends said “It is like the earth is farting!” What more can I ask for, I mean seriously! I had fun there as well and amazingly enough left relatively clean. I did have to turn down the offer to paint ‘war paint,’ aka mud, on my face. As tempting as it was I just had my weekly shower last night and I am definitely not ruining it on day 2 of being clean! I am posting some pictures from both sites. (I usually don’t like to be in pictures, just taking them, but I have been taking special effort to be in these pictures for you all – so please feel loved!)

Me, Sabina, Amy, & Jordan (another AZ6)

Mud Volcanoes

Some what normal life…

One afternoon this past week, for the life of me I can’t remember – all the days just seem to blur together here, I have no sense of time – we had the afternoon off from YD school. Oh, I think I do remember – it was Wednesday the 15th because that was the Presidential Election Day here. So no YD school – what are we to do with our free afternoon? Go find a robot sculpture of course! No lie, that is what we did, set out of on a robot hunt. Amy, one of my cluster mates, saw a picture of on the internet (in the US) of this robot sculpture somewhere in Sumgayut. Our LCF was finally able to find out how to get there from asking several different people for directions. Everyone laughed at us when we said that is where we were going, but us Americans did not care. (However, Sabina, our LCF, who is Azerbaijani does care, but we love to embarrass her so it made it that much more fun!) So we head off that afternoon to find this robot. Well, we took a couple of buses, but finally ended up in the middle of nowhere at some type of factory/plant building. But what did we see!?! An empty plot where the robot used to be! Not even lying, the robot was gone; a small piece of information people forgot to tell us when we asked for directions! We decided to be very Peace Corps-y and said ‘it was the journey, not the destination that is important’ (completely laughing at the entire situation). So as you can see from the picture below we decided to make our own robots on home of the once robot.

As I mentioned earlier my cluster likes to push the nerves of our LCF, and we went a little too far on Thursday during class. So to show her that we really do love her we decided to bake her cookies. Amy had her mom send her the recipe for chocolate chip cookies as well as the recipe for peanut butter cookies. We got out of YD class a lot later than usual on Thursday, but no problem; Amy and I were going to go the market and buy the supplies and Allison was going to come over the Amy’s house after she ate dinner. I got help from an Azerbaijani PC staff to have grammatically correct sentence in Azerbaijani saying I what I was going to do. So I called my host family and told them my plans. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then, Amy and I successfully got all the ingredients from the market – still feeling pretty good about ourselves. Now, that was a bit of a task, minus the obvious language barrier Amy and I had to try and guess the amounts of our recipe, which was in cups, in kilograms to tell the people at the market how much we needed (One does not buy a box of sugar, flour, etc…, instead you say how much you want and they measure it out for you there). Not as easy as it sounds – but we did it. We go back to Amy’s house and continue to guestimate everything as we have no measuring tools. It is a miracle the cookies turned out edible, much less decent tasting! (We were told there were very delicious, maybe people just being polite! J No, they were not half bad, not the same as in the States, but not bad.) So we are baking away when my phone rings. It is my host family asking me when I will be home. I told them again when I would be home. We were having a lot of fun baking and doing some homework when I looked outside and all of a sudden it was dusk. You are probably thinking – so what. But, the PC strongly advises not to go out alone after dark. So I decided to go ahead home turning down the offer of walking home with Alison and her host dad (he was coming to get her later to walk her home). I turned down that offer simply because I had no idea how to tell my host family that. And it is a good thing I did! I headed off to get home before dark and as I turned down my street what did I see? Definitely my host sister and aunt pacing outside our gate looking for me. So it turns out that my ‘perfect sentence’ was not that perfect because they had no idea where I was! They just knew that I was a lot later than I normally was and they were worried. I have decided that I am the ‘special’ child they never had! I am sure they think I am a complete idiot as I can’t do anything alone! (I am laughing out loud as I type this; I think it is completely hysterical. But, I know my family really likes me and I really like my family – so it is all good!)

Me, Amy, Kim, & Alison being robots


I made it to and back from my PCV visit to Ganja. I left October 11 at night and left Ganja October 13 at night – the trip was short, but fun. The PC arranged for us to take the night train there and when I found out that the night train had real sleeper cars I was so excited! I just thought that it was train that I would sleep in a chair. So I imagined what I thought this amazing night train would be like – the James Bond night trains of course! I completely imagined this amazingly cool room with a giant bed and a descent about of space to maneuver. Well, needless to say that my sleeper room did not live up to my expectations – my sleeper car looked nothing like James Bond’s – nonetheless I enjoyed the experience. Five AZ6ers went to Ganja to visit the 4 PCVs already there, so it was like one big party! The PCVs went all out and made tons of American food for us (biscuits and gravy, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, tacos, brownies, beef straw-ga-noff (which I obviously don’t know how to spell (ironic because when I was little it was my favorite meal, always mine birthday meal request) so I am writing it phonetically to the best of my ability). Monday afternoon we were given the official ‘Tour de Tor’ of some Ganja highlights by the PCV named Tor. Then we went to one of Rae’s English conversation clubs for some University Students (Ganja is home to 5 universities). I enjoyed meeting and talking with the students; I was really impressed with their level of English – very high. So what story of mine would be complete without some random event happening? So, all was well and Monday night we left to catch a bus to take us to the train station to catch our 9.20 pm train. Well, the bus did not come when expected. Actually we were told that the bus did not run that late. So we went to another spot to catch a different bus. Our PCV put us on the bus and told us to run when we got to the platform to catch our train. Run we did! The train was pulling out as when got on the platform. So, here are five Americans running after a train. Chris, a fellow AZ6, got to the train first when the ‘stewardess type’ lady told us we could not get on the train. So, we ran to the next car and Chris jumped/threw himself on the train – definitely crawling through the legs of a couple of stewardesses. Pretty positive that is a cultural no-no! So, I am next as I begin to climb on a moving train. I am half on half off when the train stops! They let us on and told us not to be late next time. All is well that ends well and we made it back safe and sound to our homes.

bottle house in Ganja

from left to right: Todd (AZ6), Chris (AZ6), Tom (AZ5), Brian (AZ5), Tor (AZ5), Suzanne (AZ6), Rae (AZ5), Tony (AZ6)

Our night train room (I slept on one of the top bunks)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Email troubles

So, I just posted my blog and went to check and send emails. I was able to read all my emails from everyone, but I am not able to send any. So please don't stop sending them, I got recieved all your emails. I will come back to the internet cafe as soon as I can and try again to send emails. Probably one afternoon this week.

Where to begin!

Okay everyone. I finally am able post on my blog what has been going on in my life. I am still working on my Azeri and I am doing a lot better than I was when I left (which was zero Azeri language skills so I don’t know what that says about me! J I am not picking it up as fast as I would like, but I have to remember that language learning takes time. So language learning is still a top prayer request for me! I thank you in advance for everyone who is praying for me, I can really see God’s grace and provision in the short time I have been here.

I have decided that the best way for me to do this is to divide everything up into different posts so that you will not be overwhelmed with one extremely long post. If I post it correctly then the oldest thing will come first and then work its way down to the more recent. I hope you enjoy!

First few days…

Well, I must say that my arrival to Azerbaijan was a whirlwind. We left Philadelphia and departed for Frankfurt and then to Baku. The first leg of the flight was around 8 hours; I slept most of the way thus causing the flight to seem quite short. However, the shorter leg (Frankfurt to Baku) of the flight only totaled about 4 hours but I thought it would never end. But finally we arrived in Baku late Tuesday night. We walked out of customs and were greeted by cheering Peace Corps staff and current volunteers. (They are called AZ5 and I am an AZ6 because I am the 6th group of volunteers to serve in Azerbaijan.) They helped us load the luggage of all 61 of us on two giant tourist type buses and we immediately left for Aqua Park Hotel located in Sumgayit. We received our room assignments and headed off to bed because the next morning we officially started our PST (pre-service training). Being at Aqua Park was a bit surreal because it was very nice and we were a bit isolated. However, I enjoyed being beach front to the Caspian Sea, which I fully took advantage of with daily walks on the beach. We left Aqua Park on Saturday to head to our host families.
Caspian Sea

Traiditional Dance performed for us at the hotel

AZ6 dancing (in traditional Azeri way)

My Host Family

As I mentioned before my host family is great. And yes, I do have electricity and run water! The electricity goes out occasionally, but it usually comes back on relatively quick. I have two host siblings, a 15 year old sister and an 11 year old brother. My sister loves the English language and wants to constantly speak to me in English. However, she is always willing to help me study my Azeri when I ask. Monday the 29th was the last day of Ramadan and my host mother cooked a big feast of traditional food for the end of fasting. (My host father fasted, however my mother and siblings did not. We ate Monday night dinner after dark as a family.) We had plov (a rice pilaf type dish) as the main course. Tuesday was the national holiday of Ramadan (which meant no school for me, but Azerbaijani students had Monday – Wednesday off) and my host mother made another traditional dish called firni. (I watched her make it and the ingredients are milk, rice flower, and sugar. She stirred it continually on the stove until it was thickened and then placed it in dishes to cool. Each plate is sprinkled with cinnamon in either the first initial of your name or a decorative pattern. Each family member gets their initial on a plate, including me!)

A bit of information about my host family: my host mother is a house wife and my host father is a chief at restaurant in Sumgayit (which is where all of us AZ6 will be living during PST). The houses here are best described as family compounds. Our house has two levels: my family lives in the top house and underneath us live two of my host father’s sisters and his mother. Some of our cousins leave next door (I have only met them a few times, so I don’t know exact details of that family).

So, the bathroom. Firstly, let me just start off with the most devastating thing that has happened to me (I also think it is safe to say it will be the most devastating thing all of my time here!): bathroom talk is strictly taboo! Those of you who know me well know that this is by far my favorite subject (you can ask any of my Y business office ladies this!) Needless to say I am distraught that I will not be able to discuss this with any Azerbaijani people. All this does have a point, so just bear with me. The bathroom at my host family’s house is really nice. We have a western toilet (but the flushing does not work, we pour water in a bucket and dump it down the bowl to flush. I learned after a few days that is the force of the pouring, not the quantity of water that ensures proper flushing). The shower is the sink – let me explain. The entire bathroom is the shower (meaning the floor has a drain in it and I just stand in the room to wash.) I had my first (and only shower thus far) on Wednesday. The bathroom sink is a shower head that a lot of kitchen sinks have in America. You can pull the head out and press the top to make it a spray or just one flow of water. I had plenty of water and warm water so I have no complaints. (I think the hot water has to be turned on first and then it takes a while for it to heat up. I am pretty sure my family has a shower day once a week, but I haven’t exactly figured that out yet.) Okay, back to the toilet. The first day I was here I went to use the toilet and immediately came back out and asked ‘where was the toilet paper?’ My host sister told me ‘No, toilet paper, water’ and pointed to a container that looks like a watering container for plants. Well, I can’t lie, I was warned about this. A lot of Azerbaijani people don’t use toilet paper, instead they clean themselves with water – kind of like a be-day (I have no idea how to spell this so I am writing the phonetic spelling) toilet. Azeri people will have either a hose or water can type thing in the bathroom for cleaning. I understand the concept of the hose, but not the watering can. And since bathroom subjects are taboo, I have no one to ask to explain it to me, much less ask for a demonstration. I am all up for trying new things, but I have no idea how to go about this one so the next day when I got my cell phone I picked up two packages of toilet paper. I brought it home and my host mom asked why I bought it, I tried to explain that I don’t know how to use the toilet without it, I am not sure if she understood. But, I do have a spot for keeping my TP in the bathroom, so all is well!

Okay so the pictures got out of order – sorry!


The living room

Standing in the back of the living room and the 3 bedroom doors (mine is the farthest on the left)

My room

My host family

My Street (looking to the right out of our gate)

The entrance to our house

I live in the top house (the brown door in the upper right)

Our Kitchen and eating area (to right as I walk in)

The bathroom and entrance to the other part of the house (to the left as we walk in)

My daily routine

Okay before I can explain my daily schedule let me give you a bit of background info. The 61 trainees were divided up into subgroups based on their job for the PC (either Youth Development (YD), Community Economic Development (CED), or Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). Then those groups were further divided into clusters of 4 – 6 people. Each cluster group lives in the same neighborhood and goes to language classes together in the morning. Then each job group all comes to one school for afternoon trainings. Each language class is taught by a Language Cultural Facilitator (LCF). (If you haven’t been able to tell yet, the PC loves acronyms – I think that is the right word.) Most LCFs, with the exception of maybe 1 or 2, are university students. They request the semester off from university to come and live with a host family in their cluster neighborhood and spend 3 months teaching AZ6 language, cultural norms, etc… Most days Monday through Saturday I language classes from 9.00am – 1.00pm. Then I come home for lunch and have to return to school at either 2.30 or 3.00pm for YD training which finishes between 5.00 – 5.30 pm. I am lucky because my cluster school is the same as my YD training school. (Therefore I get a longer break for lunch because I just have to walk to and from school (around 10 minutes or so) instead of taking a bus.) I say most days because some days we have a HUB day (when all 61 trainees come together to the same school) or a cultural event scheduled. Next week we start teaching English language conversation clubs and will continue doing that 2 days a week until the end of PST. Each cluster will teach the clubs at their individual schools, so on the days we have the clubs, we will not have YD trainings. I am really excited because this coming weekend, October 11th – 14th, we have a PCV site visit scheduled (translation: each trainee (AZ6 until we are sworn in as volunteers at the end of our training) gets assigned an AZ5 to go visit for the weekend to observe and participate in their daily lives.) I have been assigned to Ganja (the second largest city in Azerbaijan), which will take me roughly 7 hours on a bus for travel. The PCV I was assigned to stay with is also someone I emailed a few times before I left, so that is really exciting that I kind of know her! She was actually the host sister of my LCF (my LCF is from Ganja), and my LCF loves her. She, Rae, called me last night and was super nice and telling me how excited she was for me to come. I am really looking forward to this trip! Okay, back to my schedule. Azerbaijani women, and therefore I, do not usually go out of the home alone, unless for school or work. So my daily routine consists of going to and from school and that is it. Nothing like being 26 and escorted to school by either your two teenage siblings or host mom! (I am able to go to and from school alone now!) So, I spend a lot of time at home with my host mother and siblings. I have come to the conclusion that there is a tv channel completely dedicated to playing 24/7 one of 2 Turkish soaps! I kid you not every time the tv is turned on, which is quite often, one of these 2 turkish soaps are always on. (Azerbaijani and Turkish are quite similar and if you can speak one of those languages you can understand the other fine – exciting note for me when I finally grasp Azeri.) Living with my host family is fine. I really like them and they are very respectful of my privacy and stuff. Most Azerbaijanis don’t understand the concept of Americans wanting to be alone at times, but I don’t have that problem, which I am very thankful. Bread is served at every meal, I think it is safe to say that bread is borderline sacred in Azerbaijan. One never throws bread away, throws it on the ground, or takes more that what you will eat (and Azerbaijani people can throw back(eat) some bread). Usually sliced tomatoes and cumbers are served at lunch and dinner. Hot tea is served at every meal and in between meals. The typical breakfast is bread, butter, cheese, and tea (I don’t eat the butter, but everything else I have every morning). The food is cooked in tons of oil and butter, so it is a lot greasier than food I am used to eating. I don’t eat a lot of fruit and bananas are really expensive (sad note for me because I used to eat one everyday) I am sure some of you are dying to know – yes I have had meat since I have been here. I have gotten a few stomach pains most days, but nothing too serious.
This is a picture of my cluster group leaving Aqua Park with all our luggage stuffed in the bus!

Jacob, Amy, Kim, Allison, and Sabina

I won’t get lost….

So as I just mentioned women do not do many things alone outside of the house, including exercise. However, I feel very lethargic and want to get some exercise. So I decided that Tuesday (my day off) I would go running. I made sure it was okay with my host mom and asked her when I could go. Again, I can’t reiterate the fact that it is very very uncommon to see people running, espeically women. She said I needed to go at first light – which is 7 am right now. She was worried that I would get lost but I reassured her that I would not get lost, that it would be fine. I was really excited because at that point it was the first thing I was allowed to do alone. I didn’t want to blow it because I wanted them to trust me to do other things by myself. So I woke up at 6.50 am changed clothes and quietly left the house to go running (everyone was still asleep). I went outside, feeling pretty good about myself, and got to the compound gate and couldn’t get it open! I was like man, ‘what am I going to do, how am I going to get out?’ Well, I guess I made enough noise trying to open it that my host aunt came out to open it for me. I tried to explain to her in my very limited Azeri what I was about to do. She said ‘No, no, I should run in the yard.’ I said ‘no, no I want to run outside.’ So she opened the gate for me and said that she would leave it cracked for me. I was like no need, I won’t get lost. So I ran to my school and back, went down a bunch of random streets (which one street lead me next to a grave yard and to the Caspian Sea – I hit that street right as the sun was rising, it was beautiful), and then I decided I should head back home. I had only been running for 30 minutes, but I didn’t want to push my luck on my first time. So I made my way back down the winding streets and ended up at my market (there is a market on almost every street corner) and then I ran down the street looking for my house. Honestly, I was feeling pretty good about myself and that I didn’t get lost. I was cruising down the street looking for my green gate that was cracked thinking that ‘It can’t be that hard to find.’ Right, again this is me who was confident that I wouldn’t get lost – what was I thinking. I went up and down that street, turned on side streets and couldn’t find my green gate to save my life. By this time it was after 8.00 am and I know I needed to get home, but I had no idea how to get there. I knew I near my house because of the market and I saw the owner outside his shop (women also do not speak to men (or look them in the eyes), so I had never spoken to him, but I knew he knew who I was). It was getting late, I didn’t want my family to worry, and I was starting to get a bit panicked. But to top if all off this was one chance to prove to my family that I could do things on my own and I didn’t want to blow it. I really didn’t want to ask for help, but I didn’t know what else to do. So I finally worked up the courage (after repeating “Where’s my family?” (the closest thing in Azeri I knew to I am lost and need directions) to talk to the shop owner. So I start walking towards him now and then all of sudden, by God’s grace, I saw my green gate cracked open a hair – but only it was grey not green!

But wait, it gets better. So I go in the house (everyone is still asleep and I am so thankful that I didn’t go to the shop owner because he probably would have called my family and woken them up) and go to get some water. So the situation with water is that it has to be boiled for 3 minutes (and in some cities filtered) before I can drink it. So I realize that I don’t have any boiled water, so I need to boil some – can’t be that hard right? Well, this is me we are talking about! I go to the stove and turn on the gas – nothing. No big deal I just have to find the matches and then light the pilot light. So I found the matches above the stove and get the gas going no problem. I then try to open the lid of the tea kettle, but I can’t get it open – it is stuck. Well, I am like okay there is a little water in there so I will just use was is in the kettle to boil. So I boil the water and try to listen to hear when the water is boiling (I lifted the spout so it wouldn’t whistle because my family was sleeping). So I did and then poured the boiling hot water into my nalgene and poured the rest in the pitcher for water on the table. Now the kettle was empty so I wanted to refill it with water, but as I was trying to figure out how to put the water in the kettle I finally got the lid off. I refilled the kettle and decided to boil more water to completely fill the table pitcher. So I refill the water and start to boil it again. However, as I am boiling the water with the lid off I realize that I wasn’t actually boiling the water before! So I had to pour out all that water and start all over again! So about 30 minutes after I arrived home I had a nalgene full of boiling hot water (which was really boiled for 3 minutes.) Then about 2 hours later I was able to enjoy drinking not scolding hot water after my run! I laughed so hard at myself for my run, but as much as I blotched everything up I was able to do it myself! Tomorrow (I am typing my posts at home on Saturday to take to the internet club on Sunday) morning I am going to go run again, but hopefully this will not be such an ordeal! In fact, I am going to go boil my water right now so that tomorrow morning it will be luke warm!


Okay. So once again I attempted to boil water last night in preparation for my run this morning. So I boiled the some water (and learned that I don't have to light the gas stove with a match, just press a button - go figure!) again. I poured the boiling water in my nalgene so it could cool down for this morning and then I poured some water in the glass pitcher on the table. Let's just say not smart. So I learned not to pour hot water in glass because the entire bottom just fell off! And all the water fell to the floor and on my feet. I felt horrible, but my host mom said not to worry about it. She said they had plenty of pitchers and that I didn't need to replace it. I am not going to lie - the fact that she and my host sister broke three cups the same day by pouring hot tea in them did make me feel a little bit better! But, my host mother did tell me that 10 years ago she did the exact samething when she was working. Her co-worker told her that that it meant that she would be married within the year, and guess what? She met her husband and got married! Go figure! :) So, then my host mom told me it was fate and that I would marry an Azerbaijani guy. I am over 25 and thus considered a spinster in this culture. Maybe my lack of common sense will help me out after all! (I am totally joking for anyone who is considered that I am being serious.) One day I really might have a normal day! But at least I found my door after my run!