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