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