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! :)