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.