First and foremost, GO TARHEELS! NATIONAL CHAMPIONS, AGAIN! I am so incredibly jealous that I’m not in Chapel Hill to celebrate this awesome time with my friends there, but I’m also so excited for those that are there! It just reminds me of my freshman year at UNC when, only a short time ago, they won that same Championship! J I hope Megan Warren or Johnelle are reading this blog because they certainly remember some of the “affects” of that wonderful night of celebration!
It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve written. And I’m happy to say that’s because I’ve been very busy with English clubs, for both students and teachers, as well as so many other activities I have going on in different areas of my life here. One of the most time-consuming but also most important and even enjoyable activities is guesting. I’ve been going to birthday parties, Novruz Holiday celebrations, family get-togethers and don’t forget the tea parties in my school director’s office! I’m also working with an organization here called AzETA (Azerbaijani English Teacher’s Association) that helps English teachers and university students who are going to school to be English teachers improve their English, learn new teaching methods, and just learn about being part of an organization. We have regular meetings, a movie club and a book club that are all associated with our branch of AzETA. We’re even having an Open house in a couple of weeks, celebrating our one-year anniversary! Event planning is an event in and of itself in this country! J Another thing that was keeping me busy for a while is that I was chosen (slash I kind of volunteered and no one else wanted the position) to be Secretary for our Volunteer Action Committee (VAC). That basically means a lot of note-taking, and making sure they’re all correct for when I send them to the rest of my group. However, since we have a new Country Director, it also means a lot of negotiation and conversation with her figuring out how the new boss likes things to be for our meetings and for our group. So far, so good.
The thing about communication over here is that the Internet connection becomes overloaded by people dialing the same connection number at about 5:30 pm and stays busy until about midnight. Well, unfortunately, that’s the only time I’m at home and I definitely try to be in bed by midnight. So, internet time gets complicated. Azerbaijan did just recently get calling cards! Congratulations, AZB! So, calling will be a little easier, but still pretty expensive. Send me your phone numbers anyway!
Although things with my work are going pretty smoothly, it’s a very slow moving process, and there are definitely challenges. Most of my friends who have been here longer say that their second year is where most of the action happens. One of the hardest things for me is the idea of “permission”. In Azerbaijan there’s a program called FLEX that sends high school students to the US to study for a year. Most of the time, the only ones that pass the requirements for the program come from the capital or one of the three bigger cities in Azerbaijan. I really want to have a small group of girls from my village get together to learn/study/improve their English skills and practice for the FLEX test, but so far none of the girls’ families have given them permission to come to the group, much less to the US for a year. It’s really hard for me to see them so disappointed, and yet see that they knew that’s what was going to happen, and they somehow always walk away with a smile. Another girl came home late from my club the other day, and now her family does not give her permission to come. These kinds of strict rules are very normal for the culture over here, but I have not given up trying to get around it. I will simply need to find other ways to encourage my girls to see the world.
One of the biggest things that has happened in the last month or so is Novruz Holiday. This is Azerbaijan’s biggest holiday, and it was so fun! I am told that the best place to celebrate Novruz holiday in Azerbaijan is in the South, so I’m happy I was here for that. On Novruz, everyone cooks a TON of sweets, my favorite of which is of course paklava/baklava. On the Tuesday of Novruz week, everyone jumps over 7 not so small fires made from small stacks of hay (never could find the meaning of this); I swore I was going to burn to pieces.
Another tradition is for girls to pull a piece of their hair, tie it around a ring, dip it into a glass of water, pull it out and let it swing back and forth until it stops hitting the edge of the glass- however many times it hits the class is how old you will be when you get married. My answer was 27 (yikes, only 4 years left!). I thought 27 was a pretty good number, but my counterpart’s family was really concerned. They wanted to do it again! But I assured them that I was okay with that, and that I was not going to be an old maid.
After eating dinner on Novruz Eve, that Friday, kids and Americans go to their neighbors’ houses to “throw their hats”. This is basically a scheme. Haha. They go throw their hat, the neighbor hears the hat being thrown and puts sweets, nuts, and sometimes even money in the hat! One of my students got 20 Manat (close enough to $20) from one of his neighbors! I got 2 Manat and a lot of fruit and sweets- excellent for keeping my super slim figure. Haha. Another thing they do is they go listen to their neighbors’ houses that same night. If you hear good words being said, your wish will come true; if you hear bad words, well you should just go to another neighbor’s house! Haha. All I heard were the TV’s that are on the same volume as a rock concert, in every single house, no lie.
The next few days, everyone is visiting everyone else and it’s just a big party of the neighbor families. Novruz was incredibly interesting to me, and a really fun holiday. Some of my favorite things about Azerbaijan are the ancient ancient ancient traditions and customs, especially for holidays. It’s so fascinating being apart of such an old and rich culture.
The next few months will be extremely busy. School will be finishing up, we have several Peace Corps conferences coming up and God forbid I forget… it’s wedding season! The weather’s getting warm. Spring fever is in the air. Tis the time to get married. It’s rumored that some of the people who will be coming to Azerbaijan in September with the new group of PC Volunteers have already been informed! I can’t believe that time is already on its way! My friends and I are trying to plan some sort of a trip to a nearby country, maybe even India (hopefully India!), and planning definitely makes time fly by! I’m sure there’s more I’m supposed to be writing, but I’ll try to be better about keeping up with this blog from here on out!
One more very important note… Get a pen. Write it down. My birthday is the 21st of this month. Haha. I’ll be the big 2-3. I’m practically an old woman with cats, except minus the cats. Send my mom tissues, she won’t be with me on my birthday; what a travesty.
Cheers to you and yours.