Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pictures: Summer into Fall 2009

Dancing with Nana at the wedding in Mingechevir. She's my fav.
August 2009

Jale, Me, Khadija at the wedding in Mingechevir.
It was located next to a river- really quite pretty!
August 2009

The view of the Blue Mosque at night (from our guesthouse!)
August 2009

Johanna, Caroline (her mom) and me drinking tea in the huge Turkish bazaar!
We found a guy who had lived in New Orleans for years and decided to move back to Turkey after Hurricane Katrina. He was so fun and sweet, and charmed us with his extremely American accent, but also extremely Turkish-man ways!
August 2009

Johanna and Me on a boat in Boyukada.
August 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1 Year Thoughts

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!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


September 23, 2009!!!!!

Last Wednesday marked our 1 Year Anniversary in country!

Friday, September 18, 2009

In the news...

"Five Women in a Turkish Sauna"

For a really great article written by a wonderful Finnish lad about my friends and I at a recent soccer game in Lankaran, please see my site mate Hiba's blog:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Packing List for AZ7

** I am a 23 year old female TEFL volunteer in the south of Azerbaijan. This list may not be for everyone, but it should at least give you a good idea. Here are the things that I feel are necessary when packing for 2 years; however, these are only my suggestions.

Jeans: 1-2 pairs, depending on how much you like wearing jeans (I have 3, 2 that I brought and 1 that I accumulated, and I wear them all). Note: dark jeans are best. Don’t worry about them being too tight.

Skirts: 3-4 Bring knee-length or longer. My school allows us to wear pants, but they love it when I wear skirts. Some schools require you to wear skirts. When I wear my really long skirt (ankle-length) I get made fun of, they’d prefer a “fashionable” knee-length, or mid-calf length, but bring what you’re comfortable with as long as that’s not a mini-skirt. During the winter it’s nice to have ankle-length because you can layer underneath it. You will also wear skirts a lot during the summer since girls cannot wear shorts and the weather will be hot.

Dress Pants: 2, black in color (or dark gray/navy blue). I wear my black pants all the time to school! Make sure they’re big enough to wear leggings underneath. It’s important that the black pants are good quality, because they’ll get worn out by wearing them a lot and then hand-washing them.

Leggings: 2, Underarmour is the best brand and has worked wonderfully for me. It gets really cold. During the winter time, the only time I took off my leggings was for my weekly shower. I would wear one pair for one week, and while washing and waiting for them to dry, I would wear my other pair.

Long-sleeved shirts: 2 dark-colored shirts for layering, 2 button-down to wear with skirts and pants to school, and maybe some others for lounging and/or casual wear

Short-sleeved shirts: 5 or more, Summer is hot, and you will sweat a lot! I appreciated having a variety of shirts to change into.

Sweaters: 2-3, You’ll want at least one heavier sweater, and at least one lighter weight sweater.

Tank tops: 2, conservative in style (thick straps, not showing too much chest). In most regions, tank tops are fine. Even if they’re not okay out in public, you’ll want them to wear around your house.

Undershirts: 2-3, They take up very little room, but I always wear one under my clothes- less washing!

Shorts: bring one pair to wear around the house during summer time. DO NOT leave these at home!

Capris: I wish I had 1 pair of capris to wear for the summer. I hate wearing skirts, but it’s too hot to wear pants. Capris are fine by Azeri standards.

House clothes: 1 pair of sweat pants and 2-3 t-shirts. One of the best things about Azerbaijan is that at home, they dress completely for comfort. Embrace this. Bring lounge clothes!

Socks: Many pairs! Bring nice, thick socks, but also bring thin socks for layering. It’s worth it to spend the extra money to get quality wool socks, it makes a huge difference in the winter. My favorite brand is Smartwool (a little pricey but worth it!).

Tights: 5 pairs, bring wool tights as well as thick black tights to wear with skirts and to use for layering. Remember that tights get holes pretty often.

Underwear: Many pairs! I have about 15 pairs and I’m always wanting new ones. They get really warn out by washing them constantly. Hand-washing takes a toll on underwear.

Bras: 2-4, including one sports bra. Bras also get really sweaty in the summer time and worn out by hand-washing!

Shoes: 1 pair running/tennis shoes. 1 pair flat sandals and/or flip flops. 1-2 pairs black closed-toe flats that can be casual as well as dressy. 1 pair of dressy boots, with heels or flat (Azeri’s prefer heels, and won’t understand if you wear flats as a girl, but do what you’re comfortable with). If you like hiking, bring hiking boots (although I would suggest waiting on this and possibly having them shipped). I would also suggest bringing a nice pair of slippers for the winter- you’ll wear these around the house 100% of the time- if this doesn’t fit, there is the possibility of getting them here fairly cheap.

Coat: 1 pea-coat type (heavy), 1 NorthFace style casual coat/jacket, and possibly a sweatshirt to wear around the house and in casual situations. One light weight sweater to wear when it’s cool but not cold enough for a coat.

Hat: 1 baseball cap, 1 toboggan/beanie/whatever you call it. Azeri people do not wear toboggans and they will look at you funny if you do, but do it anyway. It will keep you warm. Also bring gloves and scarves for cold weather.

Linens: 1 towel, 1 flat sheet, 1 wash cloth

Other: umbrella, jewelry, purse, hair ties, a couple of books, journal, small backpack or overnight bag, toothbrush, glasses (2 pairs), sunglasses, adapters, Tide pen (!!), a pocket knife (I use mine all the time), nail clippers, a foot scrubber

Supplies: It’s nice to have some school supplies to start out with, for making visual aids and such. I would suggest 1 duct tape, 1 pack of construction paper, 1 package of markers, 1 Elmer’s glue

Electronics: I find my laptop to be an absolute must. If you don’t have one, think of investing in a used one. I mostly use it for Microsoft Word, watching movies, and occasionally internet. If you don’t want to bring a computer, I would still highly suggest bringing a portable DVD player. It’s also nice to have a USB drive as well as an external hard drive. My two favorite things I have in country are my mp3 player and my head lamp! Bring a small flashlight, too. A camera is a must. Don’t forget to bring any battery chargers and maybe an extra set of batteries for any electronics you bring.

Toiletries: (enough to get you started, you can get most everything here): make-up (if you wear it), face lotion, body lotion, deodorant (I love my America deodorant! I’d bring extra of this.), toothpaste, shampoo, a razor, soap, contacts and contact solution (if you wear them. Remember Peace Corps does not help out with contacts, only glasses), 1 package of baby wipes (a lifesaver during winter months where showering is rare), face wash, comb/brush

Feminine Care: Peace Corps gives ob tampons, panty liners and pads. You can get tampons with cardboard applicators if you ask for them. No plastic applicator tampons so if you like plastic, bring them.

Luggage: I would suggest bringing 1 large rolling suitcase, 1 small rolling suitcase, 1 small/medium sized backpack and 1 purse. OR 1 large rolling suitcase, 1 large backpack (with a much smaller one stuffed inside) and 1 purse. If you can pack in less than this, good for you. (Note: do not leave home without some sort of backpack!) Otherwise, just get ready for carrying your luggage from one place to another to be a pain in the ass. Everyone will be in the same situation.

**General note on clothing**
Here is a summary of things I wish people had told me about clothes before I came. Do not dress frumpy. This is not okay by Azeri standards. Yes, we must dress more conservatively than we might in the US, but this does not mean frumpy, grandma style. They will respect you more if you look sharp. Think of how you might dress for a job interview. Also, for women, they love it when you wear “stylish” things. Other teachers are constantly commenting on my earrings or shoes. Azeris do not mind if you wear tight clothes (to an extent), they’re more worried about you showing too much skin (knees, chest, and back mainly), so you do not need to worry about bringing all loose-fitting clothes or buying things in sizes bigger than you wear. Don’t bring all black or dark colored clothes. You’ll want some color. I keep my pants and skirts dark-colored, but I love my colorful shirts. During the winter, most people choose one or two (max) outfits to wear during a week. Azeris wear the same outfit pretty much the entire season, and although it may seem gross now, you, too, will be wearing the same outfit most of the time, so don’t worry so much about bringing a variety of clothes. Bring the necessities and a few extras to keep you comfortable.

- Bring stuff to do! You will be really bored sometimes. I would suggest some kind of Sudoku or Word Puzzle book, a deck of cards and/or a hobby (yarn and needles for knitting/cross-stitching, stuff for painting, whatever!). Also, it’s nice to have some stationary/paper for writing letters. You can get envelopes and paper here, but I’d bring some with you. Bring a couple of books, but know that there are tons of books in the Peace Corps lounge. Also bring any of your favorite DVDs- this is also something that doesn’t take up much room but that can provide you with much entertainment!
- If you like spicy foods at all, bring spices/hot sauce/spicy mustard/etc. They do not have any spicy food!! If there’s any particular spice you’re really addicted to, bring that as well.
- Bring pictures! Bring a few of your family and friends for yourself and to show to others. It’s also nice to have pictures of your house, your car, your university, the grocery store, a US classroom, the street, etc. Azeri people love to compare things! And these can be great teaching tools.
- I brought a light blanket that can fold up really small, and it has been extremely useful (but isn’t a must).
- You should bring gifts for your host families (there will be 2). Gifts should be inexpensive and small. Good ideas are magnets/postcards/books about your state or university, American candy, small toys, kitchen items, hand lotion, etc.
- If you have anything that makes you feel at home or comfortable, bring it. I love my small, soft blanket and my own pillow.
- Maps are great teaching tools, but also make for great decorations in your room.
- An exercise band doesn’t take up much room and is nice. Some people even brought a workout DVD. Working out can be a great stress-reliever, and who knows, maybe you’ll start an exercise class for people in your community?!
-A small stash of your favorite candy (especially if you like sour things).
- Note on coffee: there is only instant coffee here, so if you’re a coffee addict, bring the necessary things for that.
- Crystal light packets are good for putting in bottled water.

Things I wish I hadn’t brought: any kind of medication or medical supplies (except I love my vitamin C pills), a rain jacket, hiking boots (have them shipped if you find you need/want them), clothes that need to be ironed, stuff for when I moved out on my own, conditioner (although I used conditioner daily in the US, I just don’t wash my hair enough to use it here), floss (Peace Corps will give it to you).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pictures from the last few months

Thailand. Buddha statue right on the street.

My 23rd Birthday. My students surprised me with a party complete with decorations, cake and tea! The board read, "Happy Brit-day!"

I took my students to the local park that girls literally never go to. Pushing the boundaries!

Me digging for potatoes with my host mom in our backyard garden!

Me, Johanna and Lexi at the soccer game in Baku! There weren't bathrooms for women... that was an adventure :D

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Teshekur Edirik! (We Thank You!)

I would like to send out an enormous Thank You to everyone who helped out with Summer Camp 2009 in Lankaran, Azerbaijan. It was a huge success, and it could not have been possible without you all.

Jane and I have sent out Thank You notes to those of you who donated to our Peace Corps Partnership Program grant, and allowed your information to be released to us. However, we know for a fact that some people donated and did not release their information. Thank You to those of you. We would love to know your identity so if you did not receive a Thank You note from one of us, or if you don’t receive it in the next two weeks or so (developing country postal system, be patient!), please email us to let us know that you donated to the site so that we can properly and personally thank you. My email address is

Again, thank you so much for your continued support. It was incredible for me to see people from literally every part of my past donating to this camp including coworkers, friends, family members and even some people I will meet in the future. I am extremely encouraged by your ability to see the same vision for the world, and specifically for my community here in Azerbaijan, that I have. I urge you to continue to support other community workers in any way possible, or become one yourself. This world sure could use more people like you!

Thank you. Teshekur edirik.

Turkey and Toys...but not how you think!

Warning: This is quite a lengthy blog, but it is a wealth of information so push forward.


The first week of August was a glorious week for me. I spent it vacationing in Turkey with a fellow PCV (Johanna) and her mom (Caroline) visiting from America. We spent half of our time in Istanbul and the other half on an island called Büyükada about two hours away from Istanbul by boat.

Our goal of the trip was to relax, be lazy and simply enjoy ourselves in any and every situation, and I feel 200% sure that we accomplished just that. In Istanbul, our time was dedicated to taking walks, people watching, Starbucks, decent wine, delicious food and sleep in an air-conditioned room! We visited the historical and awe-inspiring Blue Mosque, spending a long time on the inside, taking it all in, watching people and enjoying the simplicity and peacefulness of its interior. We did not go inside the huge church that faces the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, because it was too expensive. Instead, we sat outside, reading about it and appreciating its beauty and historical importance from a distance. One full day was spent at the famous Istanbul bazaar, which proved to be quite the entertaining experience. The salesmen at that bazaar have really got their pitches down! Here are a couple of our favorite examples:

Us: “Excuse me, how much is this scarf?”
Salesman: “20 lira, but let me see your eyes…”
Salesman: “for those eyes, 10 lira.”

Us: “Excuse me, how much is this bowl?”
Salesman: “That bowl? Oh, that bowl is usually 20 lira, but for you I give the angel price- 10 lira.”

After we had taken in a lot of Istanbul, we decided to finish out our trip on a nearby island to reward ourselves for being such faithful PCVs and accomplished tourists. We took a two-hour boat ride to the nearby island of Büyükada, which of hundreds of charming qualities boasts things such as no cars, only horses and carriages, beautiful flowers and homes, and is home to an endless supply of charming and handsome Turkish men. This small island did not have the same amount of fluent English speakers, so most of the time we ended up speaking a mix of Azeri-English-Turkish, which was another entertaining situation in and of itself.

A quick funny anecdote for you, my faithful readers. When we arrived on the first day, we caught a horse cab up to our Pensiya and were immediately ready to get on a beach. We asked the kind of concierge/host guy at our Pensiya about where we could find a place to lay in the sun. He wanted to take us to the beach where you had to pay, but we asked if there was a free place and he looked at us for a second, and then started walking away. Although one could have taken this as a rude gesture, we decided to just follow him. Well, turns out he was taking us to a beach, well sort of. We walked into a locked gate (he stuck his hand through the gate to unlock it), walked down about 500 stairs, passing a beautiful porch and then a hefty garden. Finally, we reached the water and our “beach”, thoroughly confused. Why were we confused? Well, this “beach” ended up being a woman’s private house, and we were ushered out her long dock to lay out next to her, and then our host man just kinda said a few words to the woman and left. TALK ABOUT AN AWKWARD SITUATION! I, of course, was giggling. The woman, thanks be to God, spoke some English and was actually extremely welcoming. We got the feeling that she truly did not have any problem with us sharing her dock. She was incredibly gracious and sweet, but for the two hours that we were there, the awkwardness of the situation did not ware off…not even a little…in fact, it may have gotten even more awkward. haha. (Insert Awkward Turtle here, Melinda!) The next two days, we opted for the beach where you have to pay, and let me tell you, this was not a decision we regretted in the least.

The pay beach was glorious, and by beach I mean the astro-turf complex with tons of umbrellas, lounge chairs, big cushions, water slides and handsome/charming Turkish men galore. It was perfect. We spent two entire days there, from sun up to sun down, and enjoyed every second of it, taking in the sun most of the time, but enjoying reading under the shade of our umbrellas when our pasty, Caucasion skin had had enough sun. After our time was up on Büyükada, we headed back to Istanbul, had lunch at a Mexican restaurant (YUM!) and then made our way to the airport, and back to Azerbaijan. It was hard to leave fun in the sun to get back to the real world, and that may or may not be an understatement.


Two of the main things that brought me back to Azerbaijan were the much-anticipated toys that were in my future. I’ve mentioned this before in my blog, but “toy” is Azerbaijani for “wedding”, which is something I love. I think comparing weddings to toys is dangerously accurate. Anyway, both of the weddings were relatives of my host family, so we were the envied family of the bride (in one) and groom (in the other).The two weddings were extremely different; at one point, I questioned if they took place on different planets.

The first wedding took place in Mingechevir, one of the largest cities in Azerbaijan. At this wedding, we were the bride’s family. Also, these were my host mom’s relatives with whom my host family is super close. I was most excited about reuniting with my long lost Nana! She came to live with us for a month this past March for the Novruz holiday, and we fell in love with each other. J It was so great to see her again, and have her adore me and take care of me during my time there.

Fast forward to the day of the wedding. My host sisters and I (and the other girl cousins) all went to the salon to get our hair and make up done, well, I ended up doing my own makeup for time reasons, but it was probably a good idea. Let’s just say weddings here are the place to not be shy about the amount of makeup you wear. I went in to the salon expecting to get my hair straightened with the blow dryer and came out with about 4 inches less hair. The woman was so sneaky and cut my hair while my head was looking down! Did I mention that I never asked for a haircut, nor did she ask me, and actually I even mentioned at one point that I was growing my hair out. Hmmm…Go figure! Finally, at about 6:30 or 7:00 pm, the groom came over to “get” the bride. We took a lot of pictures and finally left for the 7:00 wedding at about 7:45, arriving and sitting down at about 8:00, 1 hour late, true to Azeri style. All the guests were already sitting and eating, and there were no reserved places for the family. So strange. The location would have been really gorgeous, outside and right next to a river, except that it started raining and kept raining for the remainder of the wedding. We tried to ignore the rain, but eventually the dancing and music were moved under this covered area. It was a lot of fun dancing around with my host fam and their extended fam. And I must say, I was basking in the light of being celebrity for the night! We finally got home around 2 in the morning, sweaty and exhausted after a full and successful day.

One of the coolest parts of this wedding was that the bride and groom actually signed wedding certificates. Most weddings in Azerbaijan are kind of affirmed by religion, which as you can imagine can lead to a lot of problems if things go sour. One of my fellow PCVs actually works with an organization who is going around, teaching women about signing legal wedding certificates and the benefits of doing so. So, it was really cool to see this in action. It made me think (again!) how cool my host family is, extended family included. They’re so forward thinking!

Now, after the wedding in Mingechevir, my host family and I made the 8 hour bus ride (!!) back to Liman, and rested up for the wedding that would take place three days later. This wedding was my first tent wedding, and took place in Boladi, the willage that is next to Liman. My host mom’s husband (RIP-Allah Rehmet Elasin) was from Boladi, and this wedding was for my host family’s relatives on his side of the family; we were relatives of the groom at this one. Whenever we go to Boladi to visit, I get the same feeling I did when I would go to visit my grandparents in Greenville, South Carolina as a kid, leaving Charlotte and going to Greenville. I loved visiting my grandparents every summer, but Greenville is not exactly Heaven (although it has really improved in the last 5 years or so!).

So we arrived at the wedding site, which I can best describe as a compound type location. There were three houses on this piece of land, all sharing a garden and an outhouse, with the tent set up on the land next to the garden. All of the houses belong to relatives, and I’m guessing about 20-30 people live on that property at any given time. One of the houses was a shack and, I was told, was Nana’s house. I never could clarify if she was actually still living there or if she had lived there, although I hoped (for her sake) that she was not still living there. Everything was already set in motion, the tables were set with appetizers, drinks and bread, and there was a place for the happy couple to sit. The chefs (aka the neighbors and other female relatives) were cooking away and the musicians were playing for the tradition of a little pre-toy dancing with the groom’s family members. Chickens, ducks, cows and kids were running around and causing havoc in every direction. Needless to say, I was feeling a lit-tle overwhelmed as I walked around with my host sisters, all of us in heels. Everyone else was dressed village style, which means one of three things.

1. All men wore suits-some shiny, some not.
2. Several (usually older) women wore house clothes.
3. Most women wore extremely “loud” clothing, meaning lots of patterns, sequins, tassles, shiny stuff, make up and pointy shoes.

The fashion statements made at that wedding were truly remarkable.

After we danced for a bit, it was time for us to get into a line of cars and drive, slowly, while honking out horns loudly and without stoppint, to the other side of the willage to pick up the bride, to take her to where she would not stay permanently.

We went to her house and danced some more. Another tradition was taking place as we danced… the groom’s family takes (it looked an awful lot like stealing to me) an item from the bride’s house to keep. At first, they were looking in the chicken coop, which made me confused. Afterall, I’d just seen at least 8000 chickens running around back at the compound- what would 1 more do?! Besides, it is okay to take someone’s live chicken!? Anyway, I kept my mouth shut and kept dancing, trying no to be “too smiley” as that can evidently cause some serious damage to your rep at such toys. After dancing and waiting for at least 30 minutes, and attaining a fabulous migraine from the extremely loud and high-pitched music, the bride finally came down and we could drive back to the compound.

On the way, we followed the bride’s ride, which was fabulously decorated with gauze, fake flowers and some sort of bird-basket-y thing on top, and which was also curiously giving out money to kids on the street. When I asked why they were giving out money, the reply was simply, “it’s tradition”. I was beginning to get used to this answer, and little did I know it would explain many of the curious things that were to come that night…

We arrived at the compound and as soon as the cars pulled up, the bride, in her wedding dress, was quickly and secretly ushered straight inside the newer of the two brick houses where, I found out, according to tradition she would stay for the entire evening! SHOCK! SHOCK! SHOCK! She would not actually attend the wedding. I am not kidding. Instead, she would sit on the couch (bought and brought as part of her dowry) in her dress while all the women came in to look at her, look at the house, and look slash judge all the brand new items (that were out for presentation) that were her dowry. This includes brand new pots and pans, furniture, washing machine, bed room set, mattresses, pillows, dishes, tables and even toiletries and stuffed animals! I was shocked by all of this, but “it’s tradition” was all I got. None of her family was there, except that there was one other woman who stayed in the house for the extent of the wedding. When I asked about her, they said she was the woman who waits for the couple to do the deed to make sure the girl is a virgin- you guessed it, tradition.

So, after we went and looked at the bride, took pics with her and observed her impressive (at least to me) dowry, we went downstairs to the other side of the compound to eat under the tent. Well, at least I thought that’s what we were going to do. SIKE! We went to sit at the picnic tables that were set up under the house, and by we, I mean my host family, me and ALL the other women in attendance. The young women relatives, who were serving the men all sitting comfortably under the tent, would bring us food and drinks but only after all the men were served and satisfied. Then, as the sun went down and the men were beginning to get a buzz and dance the night away, the women were kinda sitting around or walking around aimlessly. Finally, the women, one by one, began to pull up chairs outside the tent to watch, longingly, the dancing divas. After we sat there waiting for about an hour or two (!!), our male neighbors requested a song and called us to come dance with them. We (my host fam and I) were the first women to dance. I felt like I’d been taken out of timeout or set free from prison, and was overjoyed.

You would think that that would have opened the flood gates immediately for the women to begin dancing, but not so. It took a few more songs and the hostess grandma calling people up to dance for the women to start dancing. And still, it wasn’t like a free-for-all, whoever wants to dance, come dance… but rather, a man or group of men would request a song and then call up a group of people (i.e. so-and-so’s classmates, so-and-so’s extended family, etc.), and if the woman was part of that group, she could go up and dance. Since we were part of the groom’s family, we danced a good bit, but I was still bitter about sitting on the outside of the tent.

The wedding went on and on and finally finished a little after 2 am when the group of drunken men quit requesting songs. We got back to Liman around 3 am and were absolutely exhausted. My entire family slept in the next day, not waking up until well into the afternoon.

Both of these weddings were incredibly eye-opening cultural experiences for me. Every wedding I’ve attended in Azerbaijan (4 so far) has been different, but that tent wedding topped them all!

I wish both of these couples a long, fulfilling and happy life together!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sualim Var. (I have a question)

I am incredibly appreciative of what the military does for our country. I think anyone who is in the military makes an incredible sacrifice for our country, often affecting far more people than just themselves. Families and friends of people in the military have it the hardest, no doubt. I can't imagine sending a son or daughter or a brother or sister off to war, never knowing what might happen.

My question is: Are other forms of service to our country seen in the same light? And if not, what is the general opinion of organizations such as Peace Corps, Foreign Service, etc?

I definitely know how I feel about all of the things and people mentioned above, but I'm curious to hear what other people think?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sun. Fun. Almost Done. All In One.

Two weeks of summer camp down, only one to go. Although I’m exhausted from camp and from being around 120 kids everyday, I’m truly sad to see this camp coming to an end. The kids have enjoyed every single minute of it, even when it was blazing hot and they were getting tanner (tan is despised here) they didn’t complain. They wore smiles on their faces even when they were hungry and tired at the end of the day. They have inspired me and all of the other Peace Corps Volunteers working with them. It’s incredible to watch them trying new things, doing things out of their comfort zones, learning how to be creative and meeting new friends. If you’ve worked with kids before, you’ll know what I mean when I say that they give off this intense energy that is so contagious to everyone around.

The first week was Environmental Awareness Week, where we did everything from a nature hunt to planting plants in recycled bottles, from a trash pick up to building a trash monster from the week’s worth of recycled materials. And get this… 100 students picked up 436 bags of trash on trash pick up day! That’s something to brag about, for sure.

The second week was Sports and Games Week, where we played kickball, wiffle ball, Old Maid, Spoons and even Yahtzee. These were all so new, and the best thing they’d ever done…that is, until we had Field Day on Thursday. It started out slow with a dreaded 3-legged race, shot up to hilarious with the wheel barrow race and got insane and off the Richter scale with the water balloon toss and the proceeding water balloon fight! Those kids have never experienced such freedom and adrenaline in their lives, I assure you of that. It was amaaaazing. We all left the field happy and soaking wet. The few that didn’t get hit with a balloon were feeling extremely left out and depressed. On our weekly evaluation forms, we actually got back about 5 forms that said the worst part about camp was that they didn’t get hit with a balloon. Aww pobrecitos. 

Next week is Arts and Crafts Week, where we’ll make God’s Eyes, popsicle stick picture frames, friendship bracelets, tye dye t-shirts, still life pictures and homemade play dough, to name a few. I’m excited to see what these kids will think up! When we give them permission to be creative and allow them to think outside of the box, it’s amazing how quickly they catch on to the idea. It’s also very encouraging. In the schools here, they are taught to stick to the straight and narrow. Thus, one of our main goals at camp is to break those suffocating boxes and let their imaginations and creativity run wild!

Now, besides camp, there are actually other things going on, believe it or not. I have had a lot of time to hang out with the host fam. My host sister who typically studies in Baku is home for the summer. She studies American Studies, English and Spanish. I’ve been helping her perfect her speaking skills, teaching her how to apply for a job (résumé, cover letter, application, etc.) and also learning a lot from her about being myself in this community. I’ve gotten so incredibly close with all of my three host sisters and my host mom, and cannot even think about what it will be like to leave them when the time comes. One of the things we often do is go to the sea, the Caspian. We go around 4:00 in the afternoon and come home around 7:30 pm. It is quite the experience. I appreciate so much just being near water, it’s easy to block out the “crazy”. The beach has black sand, and there are waves. There’s a lot of trash (food, wrappers, etc.) on the beach. Men and women have separate beaches. I’m not sure what the men do or wear, but many of the women wear pants and shirts, or perhaps a night gown type thing, or any other clothes. Few women wear bathing suits. Kids go naked or topless. My host family and I all wear bikinis. I have had to borrow a friend’s bathing suit because I didn’t bring one. It’s a tankini, and my host family keeps giving me shit about it, telling me not to be embarrassed, and why am I wearing something so conservative!? haha. Another interesting thing is that my tattoo shows when I wear a bathing suit. My fam has never seen it, and the Azi’s are all shocked. Women in this country would never dare have a tattoo so when they see mine, it’s like SHOCK! SHOCK! I’ve tried to listen in, and I’ve heard both positive and negative reviews. My family likes it, that’s all I care about.  What I do here is refer to my sister, saying she has more than me. haha, sorry Sara, I gotta get the attention off of me somehow, and by now they expect you to be a little wild and free.

One more piece of news. After camp, and after the Beer Olympics that my friend is hosting as a Bon Voyage party for the AZ5’s (the group that came a year before my group- they leave the first week of September), I’m headed to TURKEY! I cannot wait. I’m going with my bestie, Johanna and her mom, who’s coming to visit, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be there for a week, and plan on relaxing a lot, shopping a good bit, and eating well. Cheers to Turkey! After that, I’m going to my host fam’s cousin’s wedding in Mingechevir (a city in Azerbaijan)! I’m busy and loving it. I’ll spend August and the first two weeks of September getting ready for this school year, making visual aids, writing a grant for an English Resource Room (Inshallah!) and maybe having a teacher training workshop or something. We shall see.

Until next time, I’d like to end with a list or three because lists help keep me sane in life. Yaxşı Yol!

Things and people that inspire me at the moment:
- watching my kids at camp
- erin barksdale
- t.d. proctor
- fans (not the screaming kind)
- water balloons
- the mere thought of sushi that once was and that will again be
- visual aids
- AZ 6
- my dreams, day and nighttime ones
- the introduction of Coca Cola Light to Azerbaijan

Things and people that inspire me always:
- my family, especially my sister, my mom and my aunts
- peace
- driving with windows down, music up
- laughing till it hurts
- Chapel Hill
- katherin mcfarland
- traveling
- ambition without apology
- fearlessness

Things that interfere with me being inspired:
- mosquitos
- insomnia
- addiction
- war
- death
- corruption

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Camp: In Full Motion

**This is an article I wrote for our Peace Corps Azerbaijan newsletter, the Azlander! Enjoy :)

July 6, 2009: Yay Camp, Day 1 (dun dun dunnn)

8:00 am: Jaclyn wakes up in her village home to Jane’s energetic, “morning person” text about camp, reminding Jaclyn what she’s to do today. Jane has been awake since 4:59 am.

8:10 am: A student arrives an hour and a half early at Jaclyn’s host family’s house. Jaclyn sends her 11 year old host sister to deal with this Anxious Annie. Jane starts and finishes calling all 150 of her students reminding them of the camp today.

8:20 am: Jaclyn actually gets out of bed. Jane has already made a trip to the local Lankaran Starbucks, read the newspaper, and finished the NYT crossword puzzle…twice.

8:45 am: Jaclyn has now eaten breakfast and sent some text messages. Jane has woken up the PCVs at her house with the smell of fresh bacon and pancakes, as well as a happy wake up song.

9:00 am: Jaclyn has on clothes and even one eye of mascara. Success. Jane has given everyone in her house makeovers, including Josh. That stache will have a special shine to it today.

9:10 am: Jaclyn receives a call from her driver that he’s gonna be 30 minutes early, if that’s okay. Jaclyn is confused, but gives in hesitantly. Jane is in the middle of a first-day-pep-talk with the PCVs, which includes props and scratch-n-sniff stickers.

9:20 am: Jaclyn, feeling anxious and still confused, takes a 5-minute power nap before heading out. Jane is headed to her school, 7 PCVs in-hand.

9:30 am: Jaclyn arrives at her school in Liman, to a crowd of smiling, excited, scary-looking kids. Jane has set up the check-in, prepared all the classrooms, and even dealt with her apprehensive director and the cleaning ladies.

9:45 am: Jaclyn finally leaves Liman, only 3 kids short. She warned them she wouldn’t wait… what a badass. To make up for the shortage of students, two mothers have deemed it necessary to come as well, complete with picnic and annoying infant. Jane is putting out the proverbial fires, organizing groups, and changing the temperature by giving into Kat’s desire to lead the students and other PCVs in an environmental “cold” dance (you know, like a rain dance, but to bring cold breezes instead)

10:00 am: Jaclyn and her village group arrive at School #10 in Lankaran. Jane is singing the Teetaneec (aka Titanic) song to calm students down, and wow them.

10:20 am: As planned, camp is off to an awesome start. Students are so anxious and excited. PCVs are freaking out about the heat but elated to be surrounded by 100 Azi children-duh. J

Yay Camp, the 2nd Edition, has begun in Lankaran! This year we expect about 180 students (yikes!), both from Lankaran School #10, as well as Liman village School #1. Jane and I are so excited to have so much help coming from every single area of Azerbaijan- Qazax, Zaqatala, Agcabedi, Xacmaz, Goycay, etc etc. We could not be more thankful to the PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) coming; this camp simply would not happen without them. We also have about 15 extremely talented Azerbaijani Student Leaders, who will be invaluable to the camp and the PCVs. The three weeks include an Environmental Week (July 6-9), a Sports/Games Week (July 13-16) and an Arts/Crafts Week (July 20-23), everyday beginning at 10am and finishing at 2pm. During these weeks, we have activities of all shapes and sizes planned- everything from planting plants to building a trash monster, from a Wiffle Ball tournament to a Field Day, from making God’s (Evil) eyes to tye-dye t-shirts, wrapping it all up with a ceremony for the students’ parents, friends, and directors.

Even though Jane is an annoyingly self-proclaimed morning person, I have really enjoyed working together with her planning such an intense event, and it’s so rewarding to see it all finally coming together! Maybe some of that morning-ness will rub off on me, and I’ll at least get used to the fact that I have to wake up in the 8’s for the next three weeks. I have a feeling that anyone who has ever been my co-worker, friend, mother, sister, aunt, etc. is doubting that this will EVER happen! :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

2 things:

Okay, as of today only $152 left. Thank You all so so much. If you haven't donated and would rather donate supplies instead, email me at

Also, here's an informative and somewhat depressing article about the United Nations Human Rights Council that mentions Azerbaijan if this kind of stuff interests you. This is exactly the kind of stuff that gets me going, gets me all worked up and passionate (ooo la laa) case you were wondering :)

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Final Stretch

ONLY $417 left!!

Please help us out. Tell all your friends. There's so little left to raise.

Here's the link to Summer Camp in Azerbaijan


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The school year in Azerbaijan ends on May 31st with a big celebration called the "last bell". The students are so excited to not have to go to school for another 3 1/2 months; they're just as excited as students in the US. When I think back to my summer "vacations", all I can remember is that there was something to do every single day, whether that be going to Carowinds, making trips to go see my Grandparents in South Carolina, cookouts, going to Myrtle Beach, church camps, sports camps, or just hanging out at the pool with friends and family. I would imagine many of you remember the same sorts of things.

The children in Azerbaijan do not have any of this to look forward to. Sure, they don't have to go to school, and yes maybe they'll go visit a family member in Baku or make a day trip to the sea, but for the most part, these kids are sitting at home watching TV or playing with their neighbors in the yard. While being lazy is great for about 15 minutes... they quickly get bored!


My friend Jane and I have decided to do a Summer Camp for these students in July of this year. Let me assure you that the idea of a summer camp is something these kids have NEVER even heard of! And yet...they could not be more excited about it! Jane orchestrated this camp last year by herself at her school in Lankaran (the city close-by), and this year we're working together so that the kids from my village of Liman can participate too! We'll have three weeks of camp: an Environmental Week, a Sports Week and an Arts & Crafts Week.

And here's where YOU come in.

I need your help.

We need money. We need money for camp supplies, for fans (no A/C here!), and most of all for transportation. I will have to transport my students from Liman to Lankaran (about a 30 minute drive) everyday, and I do not want these kids to have to pay. I don't want one single obstacle to get in the way of these students being able to participate in the camp, giving them something constructive to do during their summer vacation. The transportation will be about 80 cents per day per student, which sounds like so little, but can really add up over a three week period of time. A lot of the money we raise will go to buying arts and sports supplies that just don't exist in Azerbaijan, and to the shipping costs we will rack up in getting them over here. I have already been spreading the word about camp. Believe it or not some of the childrens' parents will not allow them to go, all of them girls. I cannot begin to explain how disappointing this is for me. However, I must say, it makes me want to work even harder for the children who will be able to go. And I need your help with that.

How can you contribute? Good question...
"For it is in giving that we receive" (St. Francis of Asissi) :)

Jane and I have been approved for a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant. This is an excellent opportunity that Peace Corps has set up for PC Volunteers' friends, family members, and other communities back home in the US get involved and support the Volunteer they know doing projects abroad. All you have to do is go to the website that Peace Corps has set up for us and give the amount that you can afford. Now, I know there is an economic crisis going on, but any little bit counts. I encourage you to tell your own friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors etc. about this opportunity.

Here's the link!

PCPP- Summer Camp in Azerbaijan

Let me just say thank you, right now, in advance, for the contributions you will make to this project. I will be forever grateful and so will the students and their families in Azerbaijan.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

World Wise Schools e-Newsletter

Check it out! I'm published! :)

World Wise Schools (WWS) is the program that sets Peace Corps Volunteers up with classrooms and teachers in the US for an awesome opportunity of cultural exchange. They asked a bunch of volunteers about Mother's Day in their individual countries, and my response was one of the ones chosen. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

it's not all delicious plov and birthday celebrations...

Plov and birthday celebrations are things I really love about Azerbaijan.

Whenever people comment on my blog, they always say I sound so upbeat and like I'm having a great time. Although I am having a fabulous time and enjoy being in the Peace Corps, I don't want to give off the impression that everything is really easy for us here. So, I thought I'd write a list of things I miss to give you a little insight...

1. my family, duh
2. my friends, duh
3. convenience
4. cell phone plans, i HATE pay as you go!
5. sushi sushi sushi
6. fast food
7. hot sauce
8. cooking occasionally
9. exercising occasionally
10. driving (with the windows down and music up)
11. related to driving, i miss my car and its moon roof
12. bagels and cream cheese
13. taco bell
14. going out to dinner
15. going out to a movie
16. going out in general
17. technology (easy access to internet mostly)
18. western toilets
19. real showers
20. going shopping
21. my own place
22. my social and night life
23. hanging out with my sister
24. deep conversations and deep relationships
25. coffee
26. my VICES. yes, I do have them.
27. sitting and talking for hours over wine
28. my iPod
29. my blond hair and good hair cut (and days at the salon with my sistah!)
30. Sunday night stir, Monday night library, Thursday night deep end and every other night topo
31. Mill Creek
32. Sports and women being interested in sports
33. productivity and real work (sadly i do miss this at times)
34. washing machines
35. bad TV and lifetime movies

I have come to appreciate these things immensely, but I also know now that I can live without them. Although I certainly feel empty at times without the people I love and yes sometimes even the things I love, I am becoming a better person having to live without them.

I also want to take this time to thank the people that have supported me up to this point in my life and in my Peace Corps service, and those that will in the future. Your phone calls, letters, emails and facebook messages have meant more to me than I will ever be able to express. Thank You.

Now, go drink a glass of wine, eat Mexican food and talk all night on your phones for me, then go take a nice shower! :)


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Brings New Life

My nana. She came from Mingechevir to visit for a couple weeks. I love this woman. It's mutual. She thinks I'm hilarious and calls me Nasti (not nasty, but more like nastuh haha), the same thing she calls her 2 year old granddaughter. One month later, she still has not left, that's how strong our bond is. :) Here she is preparing for Novruz. All the families have that little mini table for rolling out dough, etc. I must get one!

This is called a honcha, which means tray. All the families prepare them for Novruz. You put as many candles as there are people, and whoever's candle burns out the quickest... well, let's just say, that's not so good. On it are sweets, colorful eggs, nuts, popcorn, fruit, etc. And in the middle is the semeni, my favorite symbol of Novruz. It's supposed to signify Spring and new life and all that. Isn't it pretty?

My family and I sitting down to eat our Novruz meal. Nana did the cooking- sooo delicious!

Bangs! Fringe! чёлка!

After I went to throw my hat at my neighbor's house, she invited me in to see her new chickies. So cute! They were all piled on top of each other in the box for warmth. Precious.


Jala, Me and Khadija on Women's Day in Baku.
It's an international holiday you know...
At my counterpart's house, preparing the fires.

Me jumping over the 7 fires! Such an adrenaline rush. Sounds lame, I know, but it was scary!

Me jumping over the fire at my host family's house. This picture is mostly for my sister.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

National Champions and International Happenings

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.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I had some more time, so here are more pickas!

My school director in super serious mode (usually he's always laughing!), his wife, me and a neighbor (I think, haha)

My school! This is the view from my house window!The kids are lining up waiting to start their day!

Mud Volcanoes!!!! One of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life.

We had a surprise yard guest the other day! haha. My host family thought it was hilarious that this never happened in America. ha.

Another surprise guest. I walked into the kitchen to get a piece of bread, and got a lovely view of what was to be for dinner that night.

Some Pics from the last 5 months or so

Our lovely Christmas fireplace, complete with stockings and stocking gifts! Jane was a lovely hostess, and a fabulous artist!

My host family in Liman!
Leman (11), Rada (mom), Me, Jale (21) and Khadija (19)
My host family in Masazir.
top row: Mati, Me and Gulchin
bottom row: Fatma (mom) and her sis-in-law

My training group learning how to make dolma with Amy's host mom. Notice Josh just chilling on the couch. He was forbidden to help in the kitchen. Instead he was given a hot glass of tea and told not to worry his pretty little face.
My besties here. Me, Lexi and Johanna! This was one of the first days in the country!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Casual Dining

Yesterday, 12 February 2009, was a day that will be marked on my memory forever. It was one of my favorite days in Azerbaijan thus far. First, I must give a bit of a background story.

After the last post I wrote, I traveled to Zaqatala, one of the northernmost regions of Azerbaijan, and one of the farthest away places I could have traveled while staying in country. However, about 40 of us met up there to celebrate the inauguration and to listen to Obama's speech, so of course I went! On the trip back (about 14 hours total) my iPod and wallet were stolen on the bus, and my friend Amy's cell phone was stolen. And to add to that, Peace Corps almost kicked me out because I happened to be traveling after dark. My country director had mercy on me, thank God. So, lesson #1: Do not break PC policies. The good thing is, I'm okay and I'm a merciless optimist and I didn't let this situation set me too far behind, although it has been a huge pain in the ass, and I am now accepting donations for iPod's. My iPod was my outlet. boo.

Okay, so yesterday, Amy and I had to go to Salyan (where the robbery happened on a break) and report to the police the theft that occurred, 3 weeks ago. Yes. 3 weeks ago. 1.2.3. That's just how AZB works. I don't question it.

So, we woke up early in the morning and caught a bus to Salyan (about 2 hours away) to meet with Jeyhun, our Safety and Security Coordinator, who is fabulous, and then subsequently the police of Salyan. Jeyhun and the PC driver, Perviz, came to pick us up and we headed straight to the police station in the undeniably recognizable PC vehicle. With Jeyhun at our side, we waltzed right into the police station, completely cocky like. (I was loving this already)

We were then escorted upstairs, well more like reluctantly let in to find the office for ourselves. As we were drawn in by the smell of about half a dozen burning cigarettes and the sound of water boiling (presumably for tea), we easily found the office. We walked in and greeted each other- only the men actually touching/shaking hands- and we could not begin the meeting without having tea prepared for us, complete with sugar cubes and chocolate covered sunflower seeds.

Anyway, the meeting began and continued. There were three men from the Salyan PD, Jeyhun and us. As they began to write the report, I noticed that the room was pastel pink. On the walls were two pictures of the past and present Presidents and a TV played some foreign movie dubbed in Azeri, for our viewing pleasure.

Back to business.

It began with the Chief of Criminal Investigation writing my version of what happened and then Amy's version after that- they were the exact same. It was hand written, and pretty straightforward. It took about 2 1/2 hours total, and the best part of it all was the conversation that happened in between all the writing business. The other two men, observers, I suppose, were asking us all about the US, our families, our sites here, about our Azerbaijani wedding plans, why we didn't move to Salyan to work and live...everything! Then, after everything was over, we were invited to lunch (!!!!), something we culturally could not refuse. They asked what we would eat and Amy had to break it to them that she was a vegetarian, to which Jeyhun replied, "REALLY!?!?," in a response I will not soon forget. When the Salywan PD people found out they were instantly worried, fearing for her health, and maybe even her life. But the subject was dropped... for now.

We finished up at the office and left immediately for lunch at a roadside restaurant. the Chief of Salyan Police, the Chief of Investigation, 2 other investigators, Jeyhun, our driver and us were shown to a private room where we had lunch, all the time acting like it was a totally normal business practice for women to eat with the high ups in a public-ish restaurant! It just does not happen. Period. Jeyhun had to remind them again that Amy doesn't eat meat to which they replied (in Azerbaijani) "don't worry, we have a beautiful turkey for her" HAHA! No, no, really she does not eat any animals, "but it's qeshenq (beautiful)!" Finally they got past the not eating meat idea, but were stumped as to what to give her. So, eventually I just listed things she could eat to which they settled on making her a big-ass omelet with greens and a TON of small grilled potatoes. People in Azerbaijan think vegetarians must always be starving since they don't eat meat. They also swore she wouldn't have to wear glasses is she would just eat meat.

After lunch, one of the policemen drove us to the bus station, found us a bus and even payed our way. They were incredibly hospitable and helpful, and made sure we knew to find them any and every time we came through Salyan.

Although i don't think anything will ever come of my wallet and iPod , I can say (almost without cringing) that yesterday's incredibly unique cultural experience was totally worth the material loss!

**On a different note, I have 2 English Conversation Clubs starting on Monday! I'm so nervous, but equally excited. I have been meeting with some of the teachers at my school to practice speaking English and to review some of the basics. Things are happening, and there has been an awesome response to anything that I have offered so far. More to come later on! **

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I hope no one else was thinking this after my last blog, but I do NOT NOT NOT need toilet paper. I know where the store is to get it. Also, I live in the South so we are the region that has fruit, even though it's a bit expensive. I eat an apple every day.

I. AM. FINE!!! (in both meanings of the word)


Thursday, January 22, 2009

411: Things you might find interesting

The first 30 things I could think of:

1. There are no lamps in Azeri houses.
2. A woman's honor is in her eyebrows; you may thread and pluck on your wedding day.
3. In the winter, fruits and veggies are either non-existent or extremely expensive.
4. In school, they learn British English.
5. They do NOT use t.p. You have to know the right stores, even, to be able to find it.
6. They believe you can freeze your ovaries.
7. They usually only put sugar in their tea in the morning. Otherwise, they provide you with chocolate (and maybe a sugar cube) to hold in your mouth while you sip.
8. During the winter, they all sleep in one room, the one where the gas heater/stove is.
9. Women, especially teachers, wear scrunchies like they're going out of style! (got news for ya, the 80's are waaay over)
10. The "th" sound is quite difficult for all English learners to pronounce.
11. In some regions, the hijab is worn more for fashion purposes.
12. Usually, when a couple marries, they go to live with the son's family, and stay there.
13. I'm told this is regional, but most people in Liman eat with their hands, especially rice, which is quite a talent.
14. Every house, every family ALWAYS has one pot of hot water and one of really concentrated tea. For a cup of tea, you pour a little from both.
15. I am always hearing some of the most preverse and explicit English songs as background music on TV, sometimes not so background, and also in public places. And I am always asked if I have Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Beyonce (pronounced beeyons) and/or 50 Cent on my iPod.
16. Titanic is their signature, maybe even national, song. Oh Celine.
17. Satellite dishes are called "Sputniks".
18. On buses, if you're standing, the ladies sitting down yank your bag(s) or your baby(ies) from you, and hold them in their laps.
19. One of the national dishes is ground-up cow stomach wrapped in dough and fried.
20. Their equivalent of Bon Apetit is said after meals, Nush Olsun, and is sometimes shortened to just Nush (which I love!)
21. Privacy does not exist.
22. Pets do not exist.
23. They sweep their yards (and the highway) with what looks like tumbleweed. And the broom thing must have a short handle so they must bend down??
24. They often mop the rugs in their houses.
25. Gold teeth are more common than roosters or hanging animal carcasses for sale on the side of the road, which is really saying something.
26. The layered mullet is quite popular.
27. Often times they have patent leather slippers.
28. Crossdressing on TV is more common than not....
29. In a country with muddy roads and walkways, they are obsessed with having clean shoes.
30. Sucking your teeth: for men, a great wooing tactic. for women, a good way to express your disapprovement of...pretty...much...anything.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

ell-o! ell-o!

Where to begin…

First, I would like to say hi to Mrs. Flegal! She is my friend Jane’s mom, and I’m told she’s a fan of my blog! J So, hi Mrs. Flegal! I love your daughter, she’s pretty wonderful. Oh, and I always love when you send Jane packages, she’s a really gracious sharer!

Since I last posted, a new year has rolled in. Happy 2009. My New Years was one of the best I have ever had, if not the best. Although, Rachel Zwaicher, if you’re reading this, you know what I was missing from this New Year’s celebration, haha. And Melinda, if you’re reading this, my New Year’s Day was quite different from 2008. J I arrived in Baku on the 30th and spent the night with my old host family. They were so excited to see me, but I must admit, I was equally as excited to see them. The next day, I woke up to a snowy morning. Little did I know that snow would define my New Year’s celebrations! I took a bus to the center of the city, trying to pretend the entire time that we were NOT driving on icy roads. We made it safely and I met up with my other Peace Corps friends for what was sure to be an interesting time. We went to our hotel, cheap but sketchy at best, and caught up with each other about how our first 2 weeks at our sites had been. After a glass of wine or two, we headed out for dinner at a semi-American style restaurant, where we had nachos, chicken nuggets and burgers. After hanging out there for a while, we met up with about 50 other Peace Corps Volunteers at the bar where we would spend the rest of the night, dancing to the live music being played. The best part was, the New Year’s countdown happened, not once, but twice. After reminiscing, everyone is still a little unsure as to why exactly we did it twice, but it happened. Such is life.

The next day, most of us were planning to head back to our sites, but we were woken up by phone calls from our Safety and Security Coordinator (who is wonderful by the way) saying we were not allowed to leave because too much snow had fallen and the roads were not safe. As you can imagine we were all super depressed that we were stuck altogether in a charming capital city covered with beautiful snow, especially since we had to extend our vacation time. The funny thing was, our hotel’s pipes froze so we couldn’t shower or anything. I think we were starting to make that entire hotel smell like a hangover. Oh, and the heat was more like a fan blowing around the stale air that was already in the rooms. So we were cold, bundled up and smelly. During the day we walked around in the snow/ice and managed to find a real coffee shop (there’s usually only tea or fake coffee aka Nescafé) and eat lunch at McDonald’s. That night, we all stayed at the hotel playing Apples 2 Apples, a fabulous game for all size groups of people. We had about 20 people playing, and about 10 watching. The 10 watching included a group of Russian business men who were trying to figure out what in God’s name we were doing, while drinking copious amounts of Azeri vodka and talking to us like we were fluent in Russian.

The next morning, we were allowed to travel provided it was after 11 am. I had to go back to my host family’s house to get all of my things first, and since that was an adventure, I ended up staying ANOTHER night with a few people that couldn’t get back to their sites because buses weren’t running to the extra snowy places. However, that night, we all stayed in the Peace Corps lounge, sleeping on the floor with sleeping bags that are at the lounge. It was one of the most fun nights I have had so far. We played games and watched movies and just cracked up laughing the entire time. Early the next day, I was finally on the way back to Liman, and when I arrived I was exhausted! The week after New Years, I was in such a funk because I had had such a good time in Baku; kind of like when you come back from an awesome vacation and Monday rolls around and you have to go back to the real world.

Tuesday, January 6th was my first day of “teaching”. There was no heat, so the students didn’t come, so the teachers did not teach-logical but extremely frustrating. The 7th was a holiday and extremely entertaining for me. I went with a bunch of teachers to what they call the village; mind you in Liman I am more in the village than I ever thought I’d be in my life. So, we go to the village and walk for about 30 minutes (cars can only go so far in mud). At this point, I have no earthly idea where we’re going, but I just follow faithfully. It’s important to know, too, we are all in heeled boots and skirts, tromping through the mud. We finally arrive at a house where we are served lunch, while sitting on the floor around a blanket floor cloth (later they tell me it’s one of the teachers at my school’s houses, but I would have never known because when you go guesting, the actual hostess stays in the kitchen cooking, and her kids serve the food). After lunch and tea, we went to the village mosque where there was an old xanam (busybody lady, is the best way to translate that word), but she probably wasn’t so old, just looked it. This xanam was putting mud on everyone’s forehead, kind of like ash on Ashe Wednesday for Christians. I still am not exactly sure why we got it put on our heads, but I thought it was pretty cool. Although, we did pay the xanam for the forehead mud, and there was tons of mud all over the roads?! After getting mud-ded, I went with the teachers inside the mosque and said a prayer, they prayed to the prophets, I just prayed, we drank from a community cup of water (yikes!) and then were on our way back home. That night I spent the night at my counterpart’s house with her family, fun times, and the next morning we were back at school, the teachers, that is. This week has been better in terms of attendance, thank God. I guess the students just weren’t ready to come back? It’s their world; we teachers just live in it. Haha.

As for the rest of my time, I am trying to plan and start up my first English conversation club, while lesson planning, guesting and things of the sort. School is fun. I have little friends that follow me around. One boy in particular is my favorite. He’s in the fifth grade and cracks me up. I swear he spies on me; wherever I am, there he is. The English teachers tell me he is a “naughty boy” (in British accents), but I just love him! Everyone always yells “ell-o” at me, so I’ve taught my classes how to say “Hi” and “What’s up” because that “ell-o” can really get to a girl’s head. Co-teaching, which is how Peace Corps encourages us to teach, is really quite difficult [understatement], but we are working through the kinks and frustrations. Time is a miraculous thing, and patience doesn’t hurt.

So, yeah, that’s a day in the life, I suppose. What do ya think?