Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Heart Will go On

First things first, my address has changed. If you would like to have it, email me ( because I cannot post it. Lo siento.

Second, Christmas time has come and gone… and New Years is coming quickly! Although it was a sad time to be away from family and friends, we made our own Christmas celebration over here something to remember! My friend Jane hosted a total of 8 people at her little apartment in Lankaran, which luckily for me is only about 20 minutes away. Others traveled from far away places, some traveling for 12 hours and more! We spent two days in Lankaran watching movies, sharing some fabulous conversation, cooking delicious meals and making Christmas the best it could possibly have been (which wasn’t half bad!) However, on thing cannot go without mention. Although the cooking and convos were excellent, one of my favorite things we did was when we put on a performance of Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrew. One of the girls brought a souvenir she had bought from Germany, called Shakespeare in a box, complete with props, director’s notes and shortened versions of The Taming of the Shrew. Our version definitely rivaled the ever popular, Ten Things I Hate about You. Oddly, I played Catherine, the helpless little shrew who became tamed after just a bit of lovin’ from her determined suitor! I wanted to gag. Haha- kidding.

As for Christmas back home. My mom made Sara call me while she opened up my stocking- so lame! How much cornier can you get?! But I loved it. I cannot wait to receive the Christmas gift package; Inshallah it will come quickly and without passing through curious hands. Speaking of being cheesy, I wrote a poem for my family and made Sara perform it; she said everyone was laughing and in tears. Give me a break family! Haha J I hear it’s been recorded, so that’s another thing I’m looking forward to getting!

The big news from Liman is that I have been filling empty time by going to the New Years parties of 8th and 11th graders. My cool points are definitely racking up, at least among my students! Haha Who knows what the parents are thinking about me? But it gets even better. One of the parties I went to (I’ve been to 3 so far, and 1 more tomorrow) was 8th grade girls and their homeroom teacher, who is one of the English teachers. The teacher asked me at one point if I knew many English songs. I’m definitely a music person, so I didn’t hesitate but to answer yes. Well, to my chagrin, that would come back to bite me in the ass. Not 10 minutes later, the girls circled around me and were all chatting and smiling back and forth with the teacher, who then translated and asked if I “could please sing an English song”. Excuse me, I hastily replied. “These girls want you to please sing a song with English words.” Wow. Imagine my shock, embarrassment and just overall thought of, Am I really in this situation right now?! I knew I wasn’t getting away from it so I decided to just go with it, warning them that my singing was NOT GOOD. All I could think about was how hilarious Sara would find this, and I couldn’t stop laughing, true2form for me! So finally, after the laughing subsided a bit, I burst out with the first song that came to mind, which I am proud to admit was Celine Dion’s, “The Heart Will go On”. I sang one whole verse and then burst out laughing while the girls and their teachers burst into applause. One of the girls said in Azeri, to which her teacher translated, “English men may not like her singing, but we like it”. Haha. Success…. I still can’t believe that actually happened.

Anyway, all is well. I will be going to Baku on Tuesday to celebrate the coming of the New Year there with several of my Peace Corps friends here! I’m really looking forward to it. And not only that, but since there’s a break from school, I will be able to spend a little bit of time with my old host family too while I’m there! So, from me in Azerbaijan to you wherever you may be…Happy New Year. I hope 2009 brings great things for all of us! Cheers!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Celebrity Living

Since things have just calmed down and my computer charger finally arrived I have returned from my hiatus in honor of the Christmas holidays! Last time I wrote, I was almost finished with training and was getting ready for my big overnight stay in the grand city of Baku. However, since so much has happened since then, I will write a quick summary and then play a fun little game.

Towards the end of training was Qurban Bayram (the Sacrifice Holiday) for Azerbaijanis. We celebrated it with my family by having a huge feast with all their wonderful relatives. The men grilled lamb kebab while the women made a sort of potato salad thing and set the table…deeelish! I feel so much apart of that family, it’s kind of weird. Then, I finished my 11 week training and had my final language proficiency exam, which, let’s just say, I passed. ;) That same day, my friends (Johanna, Lexi, Charlie, Josh and Jake) went immediately to Baku for our once permitted trip (during training) to celebrate and let loose a little bit. We had a blast exploring the city a little more, meeting some more sketchy expats, and listening to some Irish men sing Beach Boys and Beatles songs in a random “expat” pub. It was quite an entertaining trip for us and a great get-away! The next day I had the opportunity of going to the Baku Entertainment Center with my host family. One of the uncles works for BP, and since oil companies are so valued in this country, all employees and their families get to go to the Baku Entertainment Center for free, which is otherwise quite expensive (so they say). At this lovely establishment, my host sister and I, and some other relatives, partook in two lovely games of BOWLING! I couldn’t stop giggling when my host sister finally asked what was so funny. I told her I never imagined myself bowling in the Peace Corps. Haha The last couple of days with the trainee group was full of nerves and excitement. We did all of our finishing up and logistical things (I was voted by our group to be one of the representatives to the Volunteer Action Committee J, where we talk with the higher ups in Peace Corps about issues for the volunteers in country). I’m very excited and honored to do this!) And the last couple of nights with my host family were sad, but uneventful. We just hung out and shared a few tearful hugs. Then…Swearing In!

Swearing in was the event of the century. There were several cameras there from the various news stations in Azerbaijan, local and national. There were representatives from the US Embassy, from the Education Ministry, from the Youth Sports Ministry, along with all 61 of our group, some of our host families and other community supporters. Several speeches were given, a lot of clapping was heard, kids looked in through the windows and finally we took our oath and became official Peace Corps VOLUNTEERS! It was a proud moment for all of us, and for most of us a once in a lifetime thing (we have 2 PCV’s who are serving for their 2nd time).

From swearing in, we had our little mini, except not so mini, celebration and then the next day were off to our sites! We all woke up to a rainy day, perfect for traveling with huge suitcases all across the country. I’m not sure how exactly, but I finally made it to Liman! The bus dropped me off and I didn’t know how I was going to get to my house with all my stuff by myself, until a man from the corner store came out, didn’t say a word, took my bags straight to my house and then walked away. I thanked him, but not as much as I wanted to! I was welcomed by a warm cup of tea and a lot of smiles and excitement! Since then, I can’t say it’s been much different. I have drunk endless cups of tea- in the director’s office, at my house, at other people’s houses and in the school little cantina room! I have met hundreds of people who just stare and stare at me, telling me I’m so “kok ve gozel”… fat and beautiful. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or what, but I’ll take it! I have observed many classes, different ages and personalities abound! And mainly, I have spoken a hell of a lot of Azerbaijani! Everyone here is amazed at how quickly I learned it having only been here 3 months, when really I only have a few key words/phrases that I switch up… and I have a really good I-know-exactly-what-you’re-saying face. J

I love being in Liman and I have learned so much already! This is a stressful time with some big decisions to make (choosing classes and teachers, deciding which activities I want to begin to plan, etc.), and it’s also very important. Adjusting to a new community is a tiring and rewarding experience in Azerbaijan.

Okay, so enough of that, more details later! Onto the game: Cool and Not Cool.

Cool: I’m a celebrity at my new school. Kids follow me around everywhere and love me even though they know nothing about me! My favorite is when they ask… “Jaklin, Jaklin, what is your name?!” haha

Not Cool: Snow outside and no heat in the school. This leads to numb feet and a freezing body, despite the fact that I was wearing 3 layers of pants, 4 layers of shirts, a winter jacket, hat, gloves, and 3 pairs of socks. I have no doubt that I looked ridiculous, but so be it. (Since the snow, one of the 10th grade boys decided he would write a letter to the President himself about how cold his school was, and turned out the President cared, and we now have some sort of heat!)

Cool: Watching the Azeri version of American Idol, where such fabulous performances as Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will go On” and Christina Aguilera’s, “Candyman” were performed. No need to comment on the legendary Titanic song, but for those of you who do not know, “Candyman” references such wholesome phrases as “making my panties drop”, “making my cherry pop” and refers to men as “one stop shops” (pardon the explicit words). I thought I was going to lose it.

Not Cool: Watching shoes being thrown at George Bush a million times. While I couldn’t help but find it funny the first couple of times, it has since become a clip I abhor. Also, hearing that someone paid 10 million dollars for them, or would have or something like that, I was thoroughly depressed for all the poor people in this world.

Cool: Snow is really pretty in Liman. The window in my room looks out to snow covered mountains in the distance!

Not Cool: Having to walk to the outside toilet at night in the snow, repeatedly, due to… what’s the phrase they use so often, ahhh yes… “Loose bowls”. Haha That’s all cleared up now, thanks be to God. Did I mention that they don’t use toilet paper here? When in Rome…

Wasn’t that fun? Hopefully there will be more where that came from! For now, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Christmas is a really hard time to be away for me, especially being in a country where they have never heard of Christmas. But it definitely makes for a fun time explaining it all!!! I even taught one 7th grade class “Jingle Bells,” which they then performed with a beaming director! They told me I was a “really good singer”- looks like the next thing we need are some hearing checks. I’ll be thinking of you all during this holiday season! Enjoy being with your friends and family- every minute of it!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

This is my group in Baku, Azerbaijan!

Josh, Amy, Marina, Sara, Me and our teacher Polad!

These are good people.

For Your Information

I'm really excited to announce that I have added the links to the blogs of people in my language cluster! They have some awesome pictures on their blogs for you all to look at. I have not been able to add pictures because my computer won't turn on because I don't have my computer charger because I forgot it and my package which supposedly arrived on the 22nd of October has actually yet to arrive in my hands... go figure. Just my luck. Okay, so go look at these blogs and ENJOY!

Okay, so actually I'm going to try to upload some photos from Marina's flash drive for your viewing pleasure, but if that doesn't work, go visit their websites!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cultural Exchange

My Thanksgiving this year was one of the best I've ever had. We had a huge dinner at my host family's house with a total of 20 people, half Azerbaijani's and half Americans. We each cooked a dish and brought it over to make one of the most beautiful buffet's I've ever seen. The Azerbaijani's were extremely impressed with the buffet style of eating and wondered why us girls weren't serving everyone. haha It was truly one of the most unique experience of cultural exchange that I've ever been apart of. Before we ate, each person stood up and told one thing they were thankful for, even the Azerbaijani's! My friend, Tony, who speaks Russian translated the English into Russian for the Azerbaijani attendants, and then the Azerbaijani's spoke in Russian so that he could translate that into English. Then, we sat around eating and conversing about differences and similarities in holidays for both cultures. It was such a special night, one that will forever be written in my soul. Not only was their great company, but delicious food too, quite the international setup.

Yesterday we had a cultural day that was set up partly by the Peace Corps, partly by our group. In the morning, my language group went over to Amy's host family's house where her mom taught us all how to make Vegetarian Dolma, which over here is called "yalanchi dolma" or lying dolma because it doesn't have meat! haha. I say all of us, but I forget that Josh, the only boy in our group, was forbidden to help cook. He sat around watching us while drinking a nice cup of tea... not quite so unreluctantly. ahah. Then, the Peace Corps had set up a concert for us at the musical school in Sumgayit (our training city). We were there for about 3 hours, listening to amazing children musicians and singers and watching the dancers. It's something I imagine Meemaw would LOVE! It was very impressive and a nice cultural day event.

As for this week, the countowns begin. From today, I have 11 days until I officially swear in to the Peace Corps Azerbaijan. I have 12 days until I move to Liman and my 2 years officially begins! I have 1 week of Azerbaijani language class left, and 1 week until my official language test! yikes. I cannot believe my training is almost over.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Give Thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I'm sure you are all participating in some lovely celebrations with your families from all around. I, too, am celebrating with my "family" here that includes my host family and a ton of US friends in the Peace Corps. We have planned a huge potluck dinner and couldn't be more excited. I am definitely thankful for these people being in my life. I'm cooking mashed potatoes and I'm going to be thankful for that, too!

What are YOU thankful for?!?!

p.s. I had the Iranian version of Snaps today, you know the kind of stale tasting cereal with the frog mascot?! It was a snack I found at the store next to our school- I had that along with a pack of Strawberry Yogurt flavored Mentos. I appreciate the randomness.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oh the places you will see...

At this point in time I cannot think of a creative way to start this post so I'll just get right to it.

This past week I visited my permanent site, Liman, for a few days and fell in love. After initially meeting my coordinator from Liman on Monday and Tuesday at a conference put on by the Peace Corps, we made the trip together from Baku to Liman, a 5 hour ride on an old school style bus on a bumpy bumpy road. It was dark when I arrived so I didn't have much of an idea of where I was or what the town was like. My new host family was very welcoming, with food on the table, just waiting for me to arrive. After we talked for a bit, I was off to bed, exhausted and sore from traveling.

The next day, I woke up bright and early, to ensure that I could have a full day at my new school! My host mom, who is a Russian teacher at my school, suggested that I wear pants because she swore I would be cold. Pants was FINE. BY. ME-- skirts and tights have quickly become evil to me. My 11 year old host sister walked me to the school, which consisted of walking out our gate, turning the corner and walking through the gate of the school, which is called School #1. How original. I am very pleased with how close the school is... I was already adding up all the extra time for sleeping this would provide me :) My coordinator was waiting for me at the front door and immediately ushered me to the Direktor's office (principal). I walk in the office, and to my surprise the Azeri version of a Danny Devito-Robert Dinero mix of a man is sitting behind a desk anxious and excited to meet and greet me. We sat in the office for about an hour while some other man made tea and served us all tea, 5 cups of tea each, to be exact. In Azerbaijan, it is important to know that when you drink tea, it must be accompanied by something sweet to eat. In our case, we had Sneechers (snicker's) cut up into little pieces. The man originally cut it into 3 pieces for 3 people- makes sense right?...but then the direktor instructed him, in Azeri, to cut it up into smaller pieces because "there are women here".... I found this to be pretty funny, but little did I know there was more to come from this man!

After we had our initial meet and greet session, and allowed for enough suspicion to build up throughout the rest of the school as to who this blue-eyed girl was going into the direktor's office, we began our tour of the school. First, a few little fun facts: the school consists of about 1,000 students, which is pretty big, even in Azeri standards. The 8th-11th forms (grades) meet in the morning from 8am-1pm, and the 1st-7th forms meet from 1pm-5pm. There are approximately 10 English teachers. It's a one story building in a U-shape, with a huge soccer field (made of cement) outside. It's brand new, 2 years max, and is really really nice. I feel extremely priviledged to have such a nice school.

Okay, so, back to the tour. First stop: Teacher's Room. I walk into the teacher's room and there are chairs lined up on two of the four walls, facing each other, and then a big desk in the middle of those, kind of off to the side. Women are on one wall, while men are on the other. The direktor takes me and my coordinator and sits us on either side of him at the big desk. Basically, I have walked into a staff meeting, which may or may not have been the first in their history. He gives a very long speech about me and about speaking English and about conversation clubs and maybe even about the weather that day. I was beginning to lose focus because all I could see was everyone staring at me with huge smiles on their faces :) Then, the room fell quiet. I just continued to smile, not knowing what was going on. Finally after what felt like 2 hours, my coordinator said, "May you speak a few words?" Needless to say I was caught off guard and had no idea what to say to a room full of adults who speak Azeri, Turkish, Russian, Farsi and probably some Talysh (the regional language) but definitely no English or Spanish. All I could muster up was that I was so thankful to be there and thank you for letting me come to your school and I'm really excited. So profound, Jackie. But honestly I could have said anything and they would have still loved me. Azerbaijani's are great like that.

Second stop: meeting the entire school. This portion of the tour would last from approximately 9:30 am until 4:45pm with a 45 minute break for lunch. The direktor was so patient with me, but mostly just excited and proud to show me off. We walked into every single classroom and my direktor would greet the classes with a loud and proud, "Good Morning Childrenssss" I got the BIGGEST kick out of this and almost lost it, literally every time he said it, that and the many "Sank Choo's" he said to the teachers for allowing him to interrupt. Again, in every class, he would ask me to say a few words. By the end, I'm pretty sure these kids knew my entire resume, all about my family, my hobbies, and all my friends, by name. Their favorite name was "Liza" for it's sheer unfamiliarity, and "Sara" because that is, of course, an Azerbaijani name. I felt like a celebrity. I felt they were so thankful for me. And most importantly to me, I felt so energized about being there. I feel as though my direktor was supporting me already just by showing the students that no matter what level it was, he was using English to speak to them. It seems as though he truly believes in the importance of learning English and is hoping that my being there will encourage the students to realize the benefits of learning English as well.

After I had finished up my business at the school, I went with my coordinator, her two sons and one daughter to her house where she cooked me an elaborate, traditional Azerbaijani feast including plov (rice), toyuk (chicken), tursh xiyar (pickles), and even levengi (a regional delicacy that consists of cooking nuts and onions together, forming a sort of sauce/paste... I LOVED this so I'm excited to have it more often), among other side items. I was stuffed and exhausted, so after dinner I returned to my host family's house and went to sleep with pleasure and ease.

Everything was wonderful about Liman. It's a quaint little town with about 14,000 people, trees everywhere (pomegranate, persimmon, etc.), a park, very few cars and lots of friendly people, who all know each other. I'm glad to be in a small town because I feel like I will be able to have more valuable relationships and more wide-spread support for events/clubs/ideas I will have in the future (Inshallah!). **Note: Inshallah is the most common phrase used here. It means "what God wants" literally, but is also used to mean "hopefully". It's not just an Azeri word, but is used in several Islamic countries around the world, I believe. I love this phrase and will add it to my lifelong vocabulary. ** Although the town was great and my host family extremely welcoming, there is one thing that outshined the rest of the experience. Laney, you will be proud to know that I have gained a new skill. My 20 year old host sister, who works at a bank in Lankaran and who is just awesome all around, taught me how to KNIT! I am so excited about this because I have a feeling that there are going to be several winter days where I'll be sitting in the house because it's so cold outside! Azeri people are not fans of cold, wind or snow in general so they expect the same value from us, and yes it is a value. I just got an idea...

List of skills I have gained since being in Azerbaijan, that I can think of right now:
1. squat toilets. end of story. nuff said.
2. i know how to make lavash, basically Azeri tortilla.
3. I can knit! I'm not good yet, but i still have time.
4. Azeri language proficiency
5. bargaining. I'm a pro at bargaining at the bazaar.

I think that's pretty *&$@ good for 2 months in. Oh yeah, today is my 2-month anniversary of being in this country. Yay Azerbaijan!

So, Thursday is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I'm sad to not be with my family on this day. However, to make up for it a group of us is getting together. I've organized a potluck dinner, without turkey so far. There are a lot of vegetarians among us and personally, the sides are better anyway. I am obviously making mashed potatoes since my fabulous aunt taught me how to make such a difficult yet coveted item. Other items on the menu include mac-n-cheese, green bean casserole-ish, stuffing-ish, homemade apple pie and the ever traditional coconut curry vegetables. :) Thanksgiving in another country has to be a little out of the ordinary! We are thrilled about our Thanksgiving gathering, but not as much as my host family! They have been looking forward to this meal ever since I told them on the first day it was my favorite holiday.

Okay, this is getting a little out of control so I will wrap it up. My last thought will be a quote to think about. I am reading an intriguing book called "Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blog" which is a compilation of blog entries by a young man in Baghdad circa beginning of the US's war. It's revolutionary and begins with this quote which made me really think, so hopefully you will have the same reaction.

"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do." - Samuel P. Huntington


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Please excuse my radio silence!

It's a beautiful Sunday here in Azerbaijan. Usually I would write a long post, but today I'm feeling a little apathetic. I want to be outside experiencing this awesome day. Quickly though, my site visit was awesome, I'm so excited about Liman. I miss you all! I'll write more later!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Week of Nard, Expats and American Cuisine

A lot has happened since I last wrote!

The US has a new president, my sister survived her 21st birthday (thanks be to God), I went to my first Azeri "toy" aka wedding, I received a package from Scottie and Lindsey, I learned how to play and subsequently became obsessed with nard, helped cook gumbo, had my first highly anticipated trip to Baku with a sleepover at my host family's house to follow, and I found out my permanent site!

Quickly I will say a bit about our newly elected President. I think most know where I stand personally, but mostly I just want to say that this is historical. I'm proud of our country and anxious to see what will happen over the next 4 years. It's very interesting to be apart of the international community at this time in history. Let me just say that Azerbaijani's and others on this side of the world are very happy with the outcome of the election. It's nice to have a positive image to the rest of the world, and makes me proud to be serving our country right now.

About my permanent site: I will be heading to Liman village right outside of Lankaran in the very southern part of Azerbaijan on December 11th, so soon! I'm so excited about it! My school is evidently brand new or recently renovated, it's hard to know, and the director and english teachers are excited about having a Peace Corps Volunteer. Liman means "port" in Azeri so it's pretty close to the Caspian Sea, which if you know anything about me, you know I'm pumped about being close to the water. Lankaran is known for having excellent cuisine, hot summers, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables most of the year round. I've also heard that they have a dialect of Azeri that I will not understand. When I told my host family I was going to Liman, my host sister started dying laughing. All I could do was laugh with her and then try to figure out exactly why she was laughing- evidently it was the language factor, but I'm never really sure :) haha For now that's pretty much all I know; however, next week I get to meet one of my counterparts I'll be working with and make a 4 day trip to visit my site and my future host family! My entire group is really excited about our sites. I'm relatively close to most of the good friends I've made sor far, and those that are farther away will make a nice vacation every once in a while. Public transportation in Azerbaijan is widespread and pretty easy. Finding out my permanent site was an emotional experience, and honestly makes this whole experience that has thus far felt kind of camp/study abroad like, more real. And I couldn't be more happy about that. I feel at peace with that fact. I feel that I am ready for the many challenges I know I will face in the next 2 years. Bring it on! (Sara, what are you thinking is the appropriate response here?!)

The Azeri wedding was priceless. Although extremely different from American weddings, quite possibly the exact opposite of, I had an absolute blast! The afternoon leading up to it was the most stressful thing I've experienced in a long time. My dress failed the "you can wear this in Azerbaijan" test, I saw a fight between some marshrutka drivers in the middle of the road, we failed to find a hair salon to do our hair because I was looking too much like I was wanting to spend the big bucks or something, and my host family was shocked when they saw me in make up for the first time! When we finally got in the car there, I was exhausted. Have no fear though, once I arrived to the wedding hall, 6pm sharp on a Thursday night I was willing and more than ready to partake in the wedding traditions. I ate a ton and danced even more. My entire host family, extended relatives included were in attendance and were showing me off to all who would listen and stare. They thought I was an expert Azeri national dancer, and continued to ask where I had been trained... my moves must be pretty sick, in a good way, that is. The food was delicious. Any time you would take a bite, the servers would bring more food and a new plate; a sip of orange Fanta, and you were sure to get a refill. I have several pictures, and if I can ever figure out how to upload photos, they will be the first to make it.

Nard. oh man. Nard=obsession. My friend and site mate, Josh, recently invested in a nard set/board thing and his host family taught him to play. He, then, taught me and I have become obsessed. It's funny because the first couple of times you play, or maybe forever, if there is a single Azeri person around, they are standing over your shoulder, "advising" you on the moves you should take. AKA: if you think for 2 seconds, your piece has already been moved for you. But once I got the hang of it, I couldn't stop playing. One night this past week, my language group got together and cooked gumbo for my friend Amy's host family (and ourselves of course). Afterwards, I played nard with her 11 year old host brother, who has clearly been playing nard since he was conceived. There were two priceless moments during our game. Frist, you all should know that I was getting killlllled before we even started playing. Then, I started noticing his face becoming worried, but with a smile. He rolled the dice and then didn't move his pieces. I decided to question him and he was basically like, "don't ask, you need this, I'll let you catch up with me for a second", to which I replied with a boisterous laugh that distracted him from the obvious sign I was wearing on my forehead that read "Stupid" in black, bold letters. Then, nearing the end of my ass-kicking, pardon my french, he slyly moved 6 of my pieces off the board (finish line) and then proceeded to make a shoo-ing, waving motion like "can't you make anything interesting here?!" but did it with the most innocent little smile that just made me, true2form, giggle, and remember why I love these people so much. So, the moral of the story is, nard is great, and even if you don't learn by watching typically, you have to run with it here.

Other exciting things: my package from Scottie and Lindsey was so fun to receive- it had all the girly things and "necessities" one would ever need in AZ! :) Last night, my friends Johanna and Lexi spent the night after an eventful trip to Baku, the capital, which involved some interesting ex-pats, a gorgeous and surprisingly European-like big city, some delicious tex-mex style nachos!, and a much un-needed McDonald's meal that felt like Heaven and then quickly turned into something my body was nooooot having. haha Later today, we're making pizza, the dough is rising as we speak.

Overall, I am very happy over here. I am pleased with the timing of everything and proud to be in such a great country, with amazing people (US and Azeri). It's very exciting to be in a country that is quickly becoming a big player in the International scene, and to see firsthand how that affects different populations and regional areas of the country, not to mention the financial status of everyone here. Peace Corps is a great organization and is well respected here. I cannot wait to get to my site where I can begin forming more meaningful relationships with people that are anxious and willing to act to create change. I will be writing more about that in the future, and more specifically about my site when I get back from my visit next weekend!

I just have to add in the fact that 3 flies are on top of each other right in front of my face on top of the computer I'm typing on, and have been for a solid 15 minutes. One keeps leaving and coming back. Quite the distraction, but somehow I've made it through.

Vessalam. (That is all)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November will be big.

So this is a big month, beginning with an even bigger week. Presidential Election on Tuesday, my sister Sara's 21st Birthday on Thursday.... God help us all.

This past week I began my teaching Practicum, which will continue into this week, finishing up this Friday. Everything went as smooth as could be expected, which is really not so smooth here, but nevertheless keeps us on our toes. The schedule, nearly 2 months into school, is still not set. We found ourselves planning for classes that were non-existent. Eventually, I stopped planning until the hour before class began. The children are, for the most part, awesome. They are so eager to learn and participate in the activities we planned, even if they have no clue what they're saying in English! Tic-tac-toe, where you have to say a sentence to put an "X" or an "O" for your team was one of the craziest, but most fun things I have ever done with a group of kids. Overall, I love teaching, I knew I would. I feel like it's something I was born to do... now, if only I can muster up enough energy every day to do it! It really makes me appreciate the awesome teachers I've had in the past.

My host family continues to be awesome. I feel so priviledged that I get to live with them and that they let me in to their lives. Southern hospitality "ain't" got nothing on Azeri hospitality, that's for damn sure. Yesterday my mother memorialized her father's death, God rest his soul, with a huge dinner. Almost all of her 9 brothers and sisters were there, with their children and grandchildren! It was crazy and exhausting but so much fun. If you ever think you need a confidence booster, you should go anywhere in Azerbaijan where there are older women.... "ayyy, gozel"... "Ayyyy geshengdir"... "Ayyy buuteefuul". Anytime I say anything in Azeri, even if it's just "Salam" they are super impressed. I'm pretty sure I'm going to come back with a huge ego. There are worse things I suppose.

I knew yesterday would be a good day though, let me tell you why. As I was leaving my house to go to school, I shut the gate behind me. I glanced around to take in my surroundings as I saw an old man shuffling by. He looked at me for a while as I tried to pretend I wasn't looking at him (nothing unusual), but then the best thing happened. As he turned his head, he confidently and loudly said, "Goot Morning"... I laughed not so quietly and all I could give him was a giddy "Good Morning." Then I continued walking, listening to my Ipod. Usually I listen to Alanis Morisette or some angry rap (you know to get ready to face the world with a straight face, something very hard for me!), but that man had put me in a good mood so I switched over to Celine Dion's version of Feliz Cumpleanos.

Other things that happen this month:

1. I find out my permanent site on November 14th. I'm anxious but somehow not nervous. I know "que sera, sera". Good lord, I'm so lame. Don't hate on my cliches! Sometime later in the month I get to visit my site, which I cannot wait to do.

2. November 15th I get to finally go to Baku. It's been built up so much I have to wonder how great it will actually be when I get there. I'm hopeful...

3. November 6th, although I don't get to be with Sara to celebrate what she sees as this world's biggest holiday since Jesus was born, I do get to go to my first Azeri wedding. Oddly enough the word for wedding in Azeri is "toy"... they seem to agree with my thoughts on marraige. This is a big deal in this culture, so I cannot wait! I'm going with my family who thinks I'm an expert Azeri National Dance dancer... this could be disasterous.

4. November 17th I hope to go with my 16 year old sister and her friends to some play in Baku. I don't even have words for what this will be like.

5. Thanksgiving. My favorite American holiday. I've informed my host family about this holiday and about the fact that it's my favorite so they have graciously invited everyone from my group over to do whatever we want to. I think burritos and apple pie are on the menu.

Well, that's all from me this time. I'll be watching the elections on my friend's family's satellite TV on Wednesday, hopeful for our country and its relations with the rest of the world. Until next time...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

1 Month in!

So tomorrow marks my 1 month anniversary of leaving home, and Wednesday marks 1 month of being in Azerbaijan! I cannot believe it has gone by so quickly, and yet so slow. I think all the changes I have grown accustomed to makes it seem long, but the fact that I've done so much and learned so much in so little time makes it seem short.

Yesterday, our entire group of 61 people (no one has left yet!) went to visit Gobustan and the mud volcanoes. Gobustan was alright, there's a ton of history there! The mud volcanoes were awesome! They were basically these little hills of mud that had methane gas pushing up from the ground, making cold mud bubble up. It was like they were talking to each other in blurps, so fun. It's always nice to be with the whole group, too, because mostly I'm with my small cluster of people for daily language training. My cluster is great, definitely, but it's fun to compare stories with the rest of the group. After returning, Johanna (my good friend and sitemate, luckily!) and I cooked my family a delicious dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread. They loved both, to our pleasant suprise!

Since I last blogged, it's been pretty much business as usual. My host family is great, I am really going to miss them when I have to leave in December to go to my permanent site. They have really taken me in, and I've grown close to the 23 year old, Gulcin (jewel-cheen).

So, Paulette says I should give you a kind of "day in the life" type thing, so here goes. I wake up at 8:00am every day (except Sunday) and get dressed, brush my teeth and eat breakfast all in 30 minutes before I leave to catch the marshrutka (kind of a minibus/van type public transportation thing) to go to language class. I am usually wearing a skirt with tights and a conservative shirt, topped with a scarf and my Northface jacket, and my flats, which are usually muddy by the time I get to school, just like everyone's shoes. Somehow the locals manage to keep their shoes clean, but we still haven't figured out how/why. But yeah, we all pretty much wear the same outfits over and over, we've learned to embrace that fact. We have a cluster of 5 people, 4 girls and 1 boy, and we have language class from 9am-1pm. During class, the kids of the school where our class is are constantly knocking on our door and screaming to us through the crack in the door during their breaks. "Allo, Allo. Wat iz yoor name? My name iz." Somehow we never actually get to know their names, just "my name iz." haha. Then, I return home for lunch, usually soup or some meat and potatoes type dish. Lately in the afternoons, we have had TEFL sessions where everyone who is here to teach gets together for our job training in Sumgayit, the closest city (about a 20 minute marshrutka ride away). The marshrutkas cost 20 gepik (cents) for one way, cheap! Then I make it home for dinner and some quality time with my family, and then it's off to bed usually around 11:00 pm. So wholesome :) I am loving life here, and truly feel like this is where I'm supposed to be at this time in my life. I feel very happy and content with Peace Corps Azerbaijan- yay!

Thursday, we begin our Teaching Practicum! We observe a class for 2 days and then we teach it for 10 days! I'm nervous and excited to get started. I feel like I don't really know what I'm doing, but that anything will be appreciated. The kids at school are extremely energetic and I think excited for us to get more involved with them. Any teaching advice/activities/materials would be helpful and MUCH APPRECIATED!

Now, anyone of my family members or friends who is reading this: I am extremely disappointed in your letter writing skills! :) haha. The emails are AWESOME! Please keep them coming... but come on people, have you lost faith in the snail mail system?!? I love getting mail and I have yet to receive a single letter... get on that! The postal system is so much better in the US, take advantage of that! :) Love you guys and girls, and miss you all!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Happy October!

So, I've been in Azerbaijan for a little over a week now (I think, haha). It has been a whirlwind of a week! After a lonnnng plane ride, we arrived to a town that starts with an N that I can't remember to a hotel called AquaPark, complete with 4 water slides and its own discoteca...welcome to Azerbaijan I suppose! haha We were there for a few days learning policies/theories/practices of the Peace Corps and also some beginner Azerbaijani, the language not to be confused with the person (cough cough Rebs).

On Saturday, we loaded up and headed to our training sites. Mine is called Masazir, which is actually very close to Baku, the capital, where we are not permitted to go for at least a month. We don't want to be getting too Westernized! It was incredibly awkward arriving to our host families initially because they don't speak English and we sure as hell don't speak Azeri. And if you know me, you know I was pretty much giggling the entire time! haha. But, it was so nice because I'm basically treated like a goddess here. They wait on me hand-in-foot, or hand-and-foot, whichever it is. I have my own room with two twin beds, a mini closet and a desk. The food is... umm... interesting. It's good, it's just not anything I would actually cook for myself. Also, the more grease/oil, the better... pardon my english, but i guess it just helps it to all come back out as smoothly as it went in. pleasant, huh?! hahaha. And we eat a ton of bread, which is good. Overall though, my house is really nice, way nicer than I expected. I took my first bucket shower the other day, we bathe probably once every 3-4 days, and in the Winter it will be less. I actually did not mind the bucket shower.

My town (Masazir) is new and under construction which means it is quite muddy because its been raining pretty much since I got here. One of the girls in my group lives with one of the town's leaders (=mansion) and he deemed his house the HQ for our group! "Guesting" is a common thing here, which is something I could definitely get used to. This basically means going to visit your neighbors. Everywhere you go, you will have tea and some type of food. One of my friends ate 3 dinners the other night as he was "guesting". Another friend of mine saw her family cut up the sheep they had just slaughtered in their back yard on the table where they eat without any plates... appetizing.

My family is made up of a Mother (ata), Father (ata) who is only home at night, and 2 sisters (baci), one is 16 and giggly like me, and the other is 23, she is so helpful and great to me. The 16-year old is a dancer for the Azeri National style dancing/team and she was showing me some moves, and then declared me an expert dancer of that style. haha :)

I am so happy here, but definitely feel as though I'm on a trip or at summer camp. The reality of 27 months has definitely not set in. My host family almost died, literally, when I told them I may not see my family for the duration of this time.

I miss you all and hope all is well in America! Please write emails/messages because I love reading them when I have some time to get on the Internet.

As for now, Salamat Galin (see you later!)

Friday, September 12, 2008

ETA in Azerbaijan... soon!

Hello Hello Everyone!

First and foremost, let me say: "The contents of this website do not reflect any policies or positions of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps."

Now that that's out of the way... this website is where I will be documenting my adventures in Azerbaijan so that you can keep track of me, at least as much as I want you to :) I've never blogged before but I figured now would be a good time to start.

As for the basics- I accepted an assignment to serve for the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan (what am I thinking?!) and I could not be more anxious/excited/nervous! I leave September 20th for Philadelphia for pre-training (Staging- 2 days). Then we take a bus to NYC and fly out of LaGuardia to Frankfurt on the 22nd, and from there to Baku, Azerbaijan! We will have 11 weeks of "Pre-Service Training" in communities outside of Baku before we go to our actual sites. I will not know my site until sometime during training. A lot of the training will be learning the language, a nice common, easy-to-learn language: Azerbaijani.

My job title is "Secondary School English Teacher". If you're familiar with the TEFL program, that's basically what I'll be using. If you're not familiar, TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It is a program used all around the globe for English teachers. Other than that, I don't really know exactly what my job will consist of.

As of right now, I only have my address to be used during my time spent in training. I would love to get anything from pictures to candy to letters anytime!

Jaclyn Gilstrap, PCT

AZ 1000Main

P.O. Box 77

Peace Corps

Baku, Azerbaijan

I hope to use this site to answer any questions that come up so let me know if you have any! Let me also take this time to say Thank You to my family and friends for supporting me throughout this entire process- I could not have gotten to this point without every single one of you! Also, in case you're wondering, my favorite thing I'm taking with me is BY FAR my head lamp (thanks Rebs!)...picture coming soon. :)

Here is the link to the Peace Corps website on Azerbaijan- you should take a look! Also, I am posting a map of the region because if you're like me, I had no *&$^*! idea where Azerbaijan was!