Well, it's rainy season in Azerbaijan and what that means to me is a lot of mud and frequent power outages! This week alone, I've seen a rainbow and hail for the first time ever in Azerbaijan! But it's also the start of school. School started on September 15th so I'm just now really getting in to teaching lessons. The schedule is a touchy topic, as it is yet to be set in stone, but it must be really difficult to make a schedule for 1,000 students without a computer! This year, I'm looking to teach three 8th grade classes, one 7th grade class and maybe one or two 3rd grade classes :) It's already a lot of work, but the summer definitely gave me a nice break and some extra energy. Although as the weather gets colder and colder, it gets harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning! Oh, and those of you who know my sleeping habits will be SHOCKED to hear that I have taken on three lessons that are in the first hour of the morning, meaning at 8:00am! I don't care what they say, it never gets any easier to wake up in the 7's, especially when it's dark outside!
Last weekend, I traveled to Baku for a VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee) meeting, which is where a small group of PCVs meet with staff to discuss any problems that PCVs are having in general. It's a great time to work with staff and to be apart of some decision-making processes.
I stayed in Baku afterwards since it was a holiday (end of Ramazan), which turned out to be an excellent decision. I attended a fellow volunteer's photo exhibition opening-- extremely impressive! She had photo camps around Azerbaijan this summer for interested students, and the best photos are on display in the capital for any and all to see!
Then, Johanna, Lexi and I spent the weekend with new friends, eating delicious things like BBQ ribs, Mexican style potatoes-au-gratin, buffalo style chicken, salad with real lettuce and ranch dressing, and some delicious spirits. Eating like this occasionally definitely wards off the cravings! Thanks Brent!
I also finally bought black boots, which I've been looking for ever since last winter.
I'm working on writing a SPA (Small Project Assistance) Program grant to fund an English Resource Room in my school. My director has agreed to giving me a room in our school for me to create this masterpiece. The grant will hopefully cover the costs of buying some furniture, computers, a TV/DVD/VCR, head phones and lots of books! I am really excited about this, and feel that this will be one of my bigger projects during my service. As part of the SPA Program, which is funded by USAID, the organization is required to give at least 20% of funds needed. This 20% can be in cash contributions, items donated, or labor/time donated. My director was really excited about this when I came to him with it, and was more than willing to give 20% of the funds, which I was nervous about. NOW... if YOU (or anyone you know) back in the USA are interested in helping out with this project in any way (host a book drive, send a book or two, send magazines, send computer games for learning English, send markers, or anything else!) please, please, please let me know. I would LOVE to have as much help as possible with designing and creating this resource room.
Next on the list of things to do here is a Halloween party! My students get so excited when talking about Halloween, so I've decided (along with my counterpart, Taliba) to host a Halloween party for interested students. We're hoping to dress up, make masks and have some Halloween-y snacks!
Thursday, October 1st is when our new group arrives in country. They'll be named AZ7- we're AZ6. So far, all I know about them is that there are 60 of them (17 of which are male, 43 of which are female), and there are 3 couples. My site, well the city near my site, Lankaran, is likely to get 2 or 3 new volunteers after they finish training in December! We couldn't be more excited! The new group is coming about one week later than we did last year, and because of that, their training will be cut short. This is due to unfortunate budget cuts within the Peace Corps, already one of the cheapest things the US Federal Government funds!
I'm starting to learn Russian! It's not easy! Russian is very common in Azerbaijan since Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union. In Baku, it is spoken a ton! But in the regions, not so much. Older people generally speaking know Russian, but they are very proud of their Azerbaijani. Many government workers in the capital, Baku, have some (or a lot of) knowledge in the Russian language. I'm mostly looking to be able to read it and have a basic conversation. So far, I've only learned the letters--no easy task. My host sister swears I speak Russian with a Spanish accent! haha. I don't doubt that I probably do :)
Well, that pretty much sums up what's going on for me in-country. I don't have any words of wisdom to offer, unfortunately. But I would like to encourage you to tell people about the Peace Corps, and make it known. I feel like often times, Peace Corps is severly misunderstood. Use this blog as a way to explain it to people. Go to the Peace Corps website for more information. Peace Corps is an organization I truly believe in, an organization that has a hugely positive impact on our world as well as on our country. And I don't think it's given enough credit.
Anyway... this year has been such a great learning experience for me in so many ways! I've grown up a lot. I've gotten older (my half birthday will be in October! haha that was for Olivia). I've even gotten wiser. I've been culturally inappropriate at times (although not purposefully). I've learned from my students, counterparts, and from other Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff. I've traveled. I've nearly frozen to death at times! I've been outside my comfort zone more times than I'd like to admit. I've been homesick! I've laughed a ton and cried some. I've eaten things I never thought I'd eat. I've taught many many Azerbaijanis how to make pizza! I've made incredible friends. I've been adopted by the best family imaginable. I've been criticized and praised. I've been thanked and ridiculed. But through it all, I've stayed positive. I feel so fortunate that I've been given this opportunity to learn about myself and learn about such a rich and beautifully complicated culture, country and people.
I am so excited for what the remaining 15 months have in store for me and for this country. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my family and friends for all their incredible support. I would never have made it this far without you all. I miss you all on a daily basis, and think of you often. It is not uncommon for me to get inspiration from thinking about what is going on in your lives, or from emails, letters and packages you send me. I will never be able to thank you properly. Cheers to you all!